Many avoidable complications could have been prevented if male members of communities in the Eastern Cape actively participated and fulfilled their responsibilities in the initiation process. How will the self-serving individuals posing as leaders effectively communicate with the grieving mothers of these young boys who tragically perished while under their supervision, succumbing to the severe effects of septic wounds, extreme dehydration, and violent attacks?

By Staff Writer

During this festive time, rather than joyfully marking their sons’ transition to adulthood, numerous families in the Eastern Cape are mourning the tragic departure of their beloved young men.

The rite of passage into manhood is a prevalent custom, particularly in the Eastern Cape region. However, it is fraught with peril and can result in fatalities. Annually, adolescent males depart from their familial homes to partake in a prolonged sojourn under the guidance of a traditional leader in a remote natural setting, where they also undergo the ritual of circumcision.

Just like a broken record, South African authorities find themselves in a real pickle, scratching their heads and pulling their hair out, trying to figure out what on earth went haywire this initiation season.

The death toll among summer initiates reached 33 by Wednesday, prompting Contralesa in the Eastern Cape to express alarm and outrage. The organisation characterised the deaths as a departure from the norm since the establishment of democracy in South Africa.

In the summer of 2022, a total of 23 individuals passed away during initiation ceremonies.

Contralesa expressed its anger by describing the tragedy as “the new abnormal since the advent of our hard-won democracy in SA.”

The provincial chair of Contralesa, Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, expressed their exhaustion with constantly hearing about the tragic losses and injuries suffered by initiates.

“It is now time for radical action to be taken to eliminate the senseless killings of initiates, infliction of grievous bodily harm, and action and omissions on the part of all the parties involved in this province.”

Professor David Mosoma, head of the Commission for the Advancement and Safeguarding of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities, has called on law enforcement to thoroughly investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the tragic fatalities at initiation schools in the Eastern Cape.

Mosoma issued this statement on Tuesday following the revelation that the mortality rate during the summer initiation season in the province had risen to 28, a figure lower than the current count.

“The commission hangs its head in deep pain and sorrow at the unnecessary and senseless deaths of the initiates in the Eastern Cape.” 

“Before the winter initiation season this year, the commission convened an initiation indaba, where the relevant stakeholders were in attendance. 

“Far-reaching resolutions were taken to curb and end the deaths of the initiates based on the principle of zero deaths, unfortunately, nothing significant has changed because strategy after strategy has not moved the needle of deaths to zero.”

The commission expressed concern about a lack of accountability and respect for the rule of law, which has brought the cultural practice of initiation in the province into disrepute. It stated that it will meet in January to discuss and implement measures to prevent further deaths of initiates in the province.

The commission asserted that in accordance with the Customary Initiation Act, traditional leaders are entrusted with the duty of supervising initiation schools within their jurisdictions. This entails their accountability for ensuring the adherence to safe initiation practices.

“For this reason, failure to protect the initiates under their care is a violation of the act, especially section 20 (c), which states in effect that the traditional leaders must ‘promote good and safe practices, with specific emphasis on the protection of the lives, health and safety of the initiates’.”

It further stressed the importance of holding traditional leaders accountable for their role in overseeing initiation schools and for not ensuring compliance with the relevant laws and the commission’s recommendations.

“If crime is found to have been committed in the act of initiation, and those who shot and killed the initiates, long sentences should be handed down as a deterrent for their crime, negligence, and or botched circumcision and penile amputations.”

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