Citizen Reporter
2 minute read
18 Dec 2021
4:43 pm

EC initiation schools to be monitored after 23 initiates die

Citizen Reporter

Many initiation school participants died of dehydration, and others have been hospitalised.

Xhosa boys who have undergone an initiation ceremony sit near Qunu, Eastern Cape, on 30 June 2013. Picture: CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

The increase in initiation deaths in the Eastern Cape is being closely monitored by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), in a bid to avoid further casualties. 

Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement the 23 deceased initiates is up from last year’s 14. 

The initiation practice, she said, was a rite of passage into adulthood that should be “characterised by celebrations, not sorrow.”

Daily Maverick reported earlier this week many of the initiates died of dehydration. Another died after reportedly drowning, while many others have since been admitted to hospital.

ALSO READ: 11 initiates have died since start of initiation season in Eastern Cape

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane told the publication murder charges should be laid against those responsible for the “irresponsible” deaths.

In 2019, The Citizen reported that in many cases male nurses told the initiates not to drink water as a way to quicken the healing of the circumcision wound. As a result, some of the boys become dehydrated and develop complications.

Dlamini-Zuma said due to initiation schools playing such an important role in cultural heritage, the practice must be preserved, but conducted safely. 

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) will be convening stakeholders to “avert further casualties in initiation schools”, Dlamini-Zuma said. 

She also implored the custodians of cultural practices, and health practitioners, to use necessary measures to avoid further casualties. 

A years-long problem 

In December 2019, Parliament called on the National House of Traditional Leaders to investigate the deaths of 21 Eastern Cape initiates, many of whom died of dehydration. 

ALSO READ: Decision to close initiation schools meets opposition

At the time, the CRL Rights Commission imposed a ban on summer initiations in the province, a decision that was not welcomed by the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa. 

The Congress of Traditional Leaders was created in 1987 to come up with solutions to prevent initiation deaths.

However, The Citizen reported that illegal initiations, surgeons and male nurses who continued to neglect and abuse initiates had not been stopped. 

Resistance to changing age-old customs in the province was also reportedly of concern.

Compiled by Nica Richards. Additional reporting by Eric Naki