NOTE: This article is part of a nine-part sequential narrative series on initiation practices in SA. Answer the question at the end of the article to continue with the narrative or view the full series at The Perilous Path To Manhood.
When Kwanele Samuel heads to the traditional initiation school on November 22, he will be circumcised by registered traditional surgeon (ingcibi) Mkhetheni Ndawo.
According to the Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Act of 2015, a registered ingcibi should be in possession of a written recommendation from a qualified traditional surgeon, traditional leader or initiation working committee.
Ndawo, of Gebana village in Libode, has been circumcising boys since 2004.
"I started off circumcising illegally for two years. In 2006 I approached the health department in Libode and told them I needed to register," he said.
Ndawo says none of the boys he has circumcised were hospitalised. Brandishing a piece of paper signed by former health MEC Sicelo Gqobana, Ndawo says he has since attended a number of workshops organised by the provincial health department.
I'm so popular, parents as far as Johannesburg bring their sons to my initiation schoolMkhetheni Ndawo
"I have circumcised nearly 600 boys since I started being an ingcibi," he said, adding that he has also saved a number of boys circumcised by illegal iingcibi.
Ndawo runs his own initiation school in Gebana village, which Samuel will attend, but he also performs circumcisions in surrounding areas.
"I'm so popular, parents as far as Johannesburg bring their sons to my initiation school," he boasts.
This year he has arranged to circumcise 50 boys, but the figure might increase as the summer season gets closer.
To qualify as a traditional nurse (ikhankatha), a man has to have proof of 10 years’ experience in caring for initiates, no criminal convictions, and be known to “conduct themselves in a fit and proper manner”.
To try to stem the death toll, the provincial government and traditional leaders have trained more than 500 traditional surgeons and 500 traditional nurses ahead of this year’s summer initiation season.
It is the traditional nurse who tends to his initiates around the clock, and who is the one to provide food, mountain herbs and water.
Sivuselele Development Organisation spokesperson Luyolo Stengile says the traditional nurse needs to ensure the initiate drinks enough water and reports “any sign of ill-health to the initiate’s family”.
Boys under my supervision are not allowed to take drugs or alcohol. I don’t allow men to come to my initiation school drunk or carrying any form of drugsMlondolozo Mkhono
“Many myths come up among young boys at schools, leading to dehydration,” he said.
Mlondolozi Mkhono, a traditional nurse with 10 years’ experience, said an ikhankatha cannot let his initiates out of his sight.
“Boys under my supervision are not allowed to take drugs or alcohol. I don’t allow men to come to my initiation school drunk or carrying any form of drugs,” he said, adding that he monitors the food his initiates eat because “good nutrition is very important for an initiate’s well-being”.
Stengile said it was crucial for families to disclose if their child has any chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and that his organisation is setting up a toll-free helpline which traditional nurses may call in case of emergency.
Even boys who attend legal initiation schools can develop health complications during the process. Is Kwanele Samuel one of the unfortunate ones who fall ill at initiation school?
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