Summer initiation season in the Eastern Cape is officially underway, as of Thursday, December 17.

Thousands of boys are expected to travel to traditional initiation schools in the province to partake in the ritual, after successful lobbying by the Eastern Cape government and traditional leaders.

The coming-of-age practice was suspended earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five initiates, also known as abakhwetha, have died in the Eastern Cape as a result of botched circumcisions thus far. The incidents took place in the OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts before the season was opened on Thursday, according to City Press.

The first death occurred in Gxulu, in the OR Tambo district, in November. The remaining four initiates died last week.

The four initiates who died underwent initiation (ulwaluko) immediately after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that initiations could take place in the province this summer, according to Mamkeli Ngam, Eastern Cape spokesperson for the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).

Ngam said parents must play the leading role in the initiation of their sons and that government’s role was only to provide support to parents and traditional leaders, as they are the custodians of the practice.

“We’re ready to offer support in hotspot areas, although ulwaluko isn’t a government initiative,” said Ngam.

A large influx of initiates is expected this season, as many boys could not be initiated earlier this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to Ngam.

“We are also aware that there’s been a lot of eagerness among parents and communities, in general, to have their sons undergo ulwaluko, so the numbers could be bigger than normal.”

There are several safety protocols in place to ensure that the ritual can take place safely and monitoring teams are ready to intervene if need be.

Ingcibi (traditional surgeons), amakhankatha (traditional nurses) and initiates are being screened and tested for COVID-19.

The medical screening, which includes testing for the virus, determines whether a boy may undergo the initiation ritual.

“Boys who test positive for COVID-19 won’t be allowed to undergo traditional male initiation,” said Ngam.

“We’re expecting parents to comply so that those who test positive are isolated. They can only be circumcised when they’ve fully recovered and have tested negative.”

Seventeen initiation candidates tested positive for the virus in Buffalo City and were turned away from amabhoma (traditional initiation schools).

“Our teams are monitoring amabhoma by doing spot checks and will be going around testing initiates at the schools.” said Ngam.

Xolile Nqatha, COGTA member of the executive council, condemned the deaths of initiates, saying it remains the responsibility of parents to care of their children before, during and after initiation.

“As parents, we must guide our sons as they navigate to full and mature manhood,” said Nqatha.

“We appeal to parents and families to work together by following the regulations of lockdown alert level 1 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our government commits, as we always do, to continue using our authority to stamp out illegal amabhoma,” he said.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons 

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