Since 1995, over 1 100 initiates have died in the Eastern Cape alone. This is according to statistics by the Urology department at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha.
While the House of Traditional leaders called for the custom of initiation to be banned during the summer season and CRL Commission suspending initiation in four regions in the Eastern Cape, elders in Mqanduli have called for the custom to be done by those who have extensive experience only. These elders say initiation schools have become slaughter-houses after they were turned into money-making scam.
During this time of the year, families prepare for the homecoming of initiates, while some prepare for the burial of deceased boys due to botched circumcision.
An alarming 25 initiates have died in the Eastern Cape during this summer initiation season.
78-year-old Zwelicengile Sonkosi has been involved in initiation since 1963. His area has zero deaths. He is calling for this custom to be preserved.
Initiation Consultant Zwelicengile Sonkosi says, “The initiation customs have laws, this includes talking to the ancestors. we talk to the boy before he goes to the mountain and we talk to him when he comes back preparing him to be a responsible man, now doing medical man circumcision means deserting centuries of custom.”
Sonkosi has urged areas mostly affected by initiate’s death to seek proper ways of doing this custom.
Sonkosi adds, “These areas should suspend initiation so that people who know about the custom can go to these areas to teach them proper ways of doing things; because there are no elders watching if things are done properly.”
Doctors who underwent the right of passage want to work with traditional surgeons.
They are also calling for a temporal suspension while a long term solution is introduced.
Chief Medical Officer at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, Dr Mbuyiselo Madiba says, “We’ll identify immediately that there’s going to be a problem here so that is one of the reason that as the department of health, we are fully prepared to go and assist as well as protect these boys against death because we can’t live it like this.”
Botched circumcision and illegal circumcision of underage boys is another challenge facing this tradition. Some survivors of botched circumcision experience trauma, resulting in suicide.
Communities are urged to fight the stigma against these survivors.
Clinical Psychologist Mihlali Faxi explains, “When he comes back from the hospital he is no longer the same person. He now locks himself in the room. He does not want to talk, does not want to eat, insomnia. There are a lot of things that are happening; that is how deep the implication is. There are a lot of things that are happening to these initiates. I think what is very much important for us as the community is to support them and not call them by names.”
It is nearly the end of the summer initiation season. Government and traditional leaders are expected to go back to the drawing board to prepare for the winter initiation season and save the Xhosa custom of initiation. -Reporting by Lwandile Mbulali and Cwenga Mgubasi