First death of summer initiation season recorded in Eastern Cape

27 November 2019 - 16:12 By Mpumzi Zuzile
Young men being welcomed home at the end of their initiation. This year's summer initiation season has claimed its first life.
Young men being welcomed home at the end of their initiation. This year's summer initiation season has claimed its first life.
Image: Lulamile Feni

The first death of the 2019 summer initiation season, which started about two weeks ago, has been recorded in the Eastern Cape.

Provincial co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) spokesperson Mamnkeli Ngam said the death was reported at Cookhouse and an inquest had been opened.

Ngam said 21 cases had been opened in various parts of the province, mainly for the unlawful circumcision of underage boys.

“Of this number, five arrests have been made, with two parents and two iingcibi [traditional surgeons] arrested in Buffalo City metro and one ingcibi in Nyandeni local municipality," he said.

Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha welcomed the arrests and said he looked forward to successful prosecutions.

“We regret the increase in cases of unlawful circumcision. This is in breach of the age limit of 18 years for boys to undergo the customary practice. Those who break the law must be arrested and be prosecuted," he said.

Two weeks ago, police in Libode rescued four boys who were circumcised illegally. They also closed down two initiation schools and arrested one traditional surgeon for circumcising underage boys.

Nyandeni Initiation Forum chairperson chief Landela Gwadiso said they received a complaint from Sibangweni villagers that four boys were being kept at an illegal initiation school without their parents' consent.

The boys, aged between 15 and 17, were later released into their parents’ care.

Khanyiso Plangeni, 27, appeared in the Libode magistrate’s court on a charge relating to performing unlawful circumcisions.

Provincial health department statistics reveal the following:

  • during the 2018 winter initiation season, 21 boys died in the province - 16 from Mpondoland;
  • in the 2018 summer season, 23 boys died; and
  • in the 2019 winter season, 17 boys died - 14 from Mpondoland.

According to the provincial Cogta department, 500 boys have died at initiation schools over the past five years. In that time, 191 people have been arrested and fewer than 75 cases have been brought before court - leading to only 14 convictions.

Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders,  encouraged traditional leaders to remain vigilant against an increase of illegal initiation schools in their areas. 

He said as custodians of culture, tradition and customs, traditional leaders must be at the forefront of implementing and enforcing the Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Act.

The act places the responsibility for policing the custom on the shoulders of traditional leaders, who have to ensure that traditional surgeons and nurses comply. It states that anyone operating an initiation school without written approval from both his local traditional leader and the health MEC faces a R20,000 fine or a year in jail.

If any initiate dies at that school, the penalty is at least 25 years in prison. Anyone who circumcises or allows a child under the age of 18 to be circumcised is liable to be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment or a fine of R10,000.