ECape leaders say they are ready for 2016 circumcision season despite warning

MAY 12, 2016

Despite a statement of caution from the National House of Traditional Leaders on Wednesday urging parents not to send their boys for circumcision this winter, the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders on the same day reportedly announced that it is ready for the winter 2016 circumcision season.

 "This will be a very cold year. So, as much as we are launching the initiation year season, we are launching it with caution that if parents can pull back and not take their children this year, because this is the coldest season ever reported and that might lead to a high number of deaths," National House of Traditional Leaders’ Nkosi Mahlangu, was quoted by the SABC as having warned.

But the Eastern Cape leaders are adamant that the severe winter will actually aid the initiates in their recovery. 

The winter circumcision season will commence as soon as the boys are finished with their mid-year exams.

40 initiates die in Eastern Cape in 2015

In December 2015, the Eastern Cape Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) announced 40 initiates had died in the mountains.

According to the department, 15 initiates were killed in the Chris Hani District Municipality, eight in Joe Gqabi, six in Alfred Nzo, six in OR Tambo, four in Amathole and one in the Buffalo City District Municipality.

In line with the circular issued by Cogta MEC Fikile Xasa at the beginning of the 2015 season outlining the responsibilities and obligations of traditional leaders to curb deaths, all traditional leaders in areas where deaths occurred were expected to provide full accounts.

MEC Xasa also said the number of illegal initiation schools continues to grow with some underage children undergoing the ritual without parental consent.

Many of the initiates died due to dehydration because traditional nurses including family members refuse to give water to initiates. Other deaths are as a result of assaults and septicaemia.

MEC Xasa said these could have been avoided if there was constant monitoring and immediate referral to hospitals of the sick by parents and amakhankatha (traditional nurses).

The MEC added that without the support from various stakeholders, including traditional initiation forums, traditional leaders and the Departments of Health and Social Development among others, there could have been more deaths.

“Our monitoring teams reached out to more than 10 000 initiates of which in excess of 300 were rescued and sent to hospitals and traditional centres,” said the MEC then.

Government getting more involved

There have been growing calls to reform the initiation rites, which have seen many young men being permanently dismembered or worse, losing their lives in the mountains – especially at illegal initiation schools that spring up at the start of the season. Some have even suggested that the circumcision takes places at hospitals and clinics.

Speaking on the SABC’s Morning Live show, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, David van Rooyen, said that after consultations with various role players, government has now come on board with a policy document to regulate initiation schools.