Report on some challenges that lead to deaths and injuries at initiation schools in South Africa

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1 Report on some challenges that lead to deaths and injuries at initiation schools in South Africa

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3 Table of Contents Foreword :4 Acknowledgements :5 List of Tables :6 List of Figures :6 Glossary of Terms :7 SECTION A 8 1. Keywords, Concepts and Methods :8 1.1 Managing the process and procedure :9 2. Introduction : The gravity of the problem in recent times : Statement of the problem : Objectives of the hearings :21 SECTION B The mandate of the CRL Rights Commission :22 SECTION C Historical background : The initiation rite: A rite of passage : Initiation as a Sacred Ritual : The initiation rite in the Colonial Period : Initiation schools in post-apartheid South Africa : Initiation schools in South Africa: A brief review : Initiation rite: Legislative overview :29 SECTION D Discussing substantive issues: Factors influencing male initiation : Present practice in setting up and running initiation schools : Diminishing appreciation of the cultural values of male initiation : Inappropriate circumcision seasons : Initiation Rite and National Health : Deaths at Initiation Schools in South Africa : Commercialisation of Initiation Schools : Consent: spiritual/family consent : Inadequate physical environment (Western Cape) : The principle of secrecy and sacredness : Violence, abuse and gangsters at initiation schools : Drug and substance abuse :40 SECTION E Conclusion :42 7. Recommendations :44 8. References :45 APPENDICES Permission letter from victims :46 2. Letter from the CRL Rights Commission Summons :47

4 The public hearings on the challenges and problems of male initiation are an initiative and a response by the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), to the crisis threatening a cultural practice that has been conducted in African societies in South Africa and elsewhere from time immemorial. The CRL Rights Commission conducted these hearings to fulfil its legislative mandate of reviving the diminishing and diminished heritages of communities. The recent problems (deaths, amputations, injuries, gangsters, etc.) occurring in male initiation schools have resulted in negative perceptions of the practice; perceptions which find expression in criticism directed at the initiation schools, especially that they represent an outdated cultural practice. Furthermore, the initiation schools are seen by many as death-traps for young people. As we progress through life, we are being confronted with issues that force us to re-examine our ways of doing things, and as historical memory of these cultural practices begins to fade, this reality creates spaces for opportunists to take undue advantage of our communities. Years of cultural erosion has undermined traditional lifestyles. Some communities have had to reinvent and reconstruct the practice of initiation from a blurred historical memory, and many insist that culture should change and adapt to modernity. The question is what aspects of culture and cultural practices need revision within the context of the initiation practice? During the hearings (held in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo) on the problems at initiation schools, we heard communities insisting that changes should not run too far ahead of the people. So, in a sense, while this inquiry was specifically directed to deliberate on the problems and challenges of deaths, amputations and injuries, among other things, at initiation schools, it has become a national debate on the viability and relevance of the practice of the initiation rite of passage. The Constitution of the Republic of South African, 1996, as well as the CRL Act 19 of 2002 guarantees cultural communities rights that enable them to carry out their cultural practices. However, it must be recognised that the same Constitution, challenges South African citizens to exercise their rights according to the values that are entrenched within it. These include values of respect, human dignity and freedoms. However, these rights sometimes clash and need to be discussed and negotiated. Contemporary South African society requires initiation practitioners to re-examine their activities if they are to be responsive to their changing social environment. The challenge is that, in the exercise and enjoyment of cultural rights, the rights of others and modern values should not be negatively impinged upon. In addition, while we areincreasingly open to shared cultural space, we should allow individuals and groups to enjoy their specific cultural rights. This latter view should not, in turn, deprive others of their cultural rights. Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission Foreword 4

5 Acknowledgements The CRL Rights Commission is grateful to all the communities who participated in the hearings. The CRL Rights Commission appreciates their willingness to share in providing insights into the challenges and opportunities of promoting and protecting initiation as an important cultural rite of passage. Special thanks go to all the Commissioners of the CRL Rights Commission. In particular, to the Chairperson Mrs.Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva and members of the Section 7 Committee, Prof. David Mosoma (Deputy Chairperson), Mr. Richard Botha, Ms. Sheila Mbhele-Khama, Mrs. Pumla Madiba, Mrs.Julia Mabale and Ms. Bernadette Muthien. In organising the hearings, people from different corners of the country assisted the CRL Rights Commission a great deal. Therefore, we would like to thank Ms. Dorothy Raikane, MMC for Social Development along with Mr.Bethuel Mohapela from Sedibeng District Municipality, Prince Tabane Manene and Mr. Spinar Mofokeng from the Gauteng Initiation Monitoring Team. We would also like to thank In the Eastern Cape, we would like to thank the Amakhosi and CEO of the Eastern Cape Provincial House of Traditional Leaders for facilitating our arrival in the Province. We are indebted to Municipal Managers of Bizana, Nyandeni and Libode Municipalities for assisting with the venues for the hearings. The following gentlemen, Mr. Dlamini, Mr. Fodo, Mr. Sirhayi, Mr. Mthethwa, Mr.Mkhwanazi, Mr.Norholela, Mr.Spholi, Mr.Mhlongo,and Mr. Hlazo. We are grateful to the Municipal Manager of Thembisile Hani Municipality in Kwa-Mhlanga for providing us with the venue for the hearings in Mpumalanga. In the City of Cape Town, we are grateful to the Commission for Gender Equality, in particular Ms. Ngada, who availed her boardroom for our use. Thanks also go to Nkosi Lungelo Nokwaza and Mr. Sicelo Nkohla who helped the Commission in organising the hearings. In the Free State, we would like to thank the Municipal Manager of Fezile Dabi District Municipality for providing us with the venue for the hearings. Our sincere thanks also go to the Traditional Leaders and CEO of the Free State House of Traditional Leaders. Finally, in Limpopo, we are grateful to the Traditional Leaders and CEO of the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders, Polokwane Municipality Municipal Manager and Mr. Alexander Mosotho from Capricorn District Municipality, Office of the Speaker, for availing and organising a venue for the hearings. We are also grateful to Ntate Jan Matome Ramothwala from African Religion, Culture and Health Forum. Special thanks also goes to the Community Development Foundation of South Africa (CODEFSA). Most importantly, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the young men, the parents and families who shared their stories and experiences of initiation schools with us. We appreciate the stories of survivors who had gone through harrowing ordeals at initiation schools. We acknowledge their pain and are humbled by their trust in us. We extend our condolences to all families who lost their sons at initiation schools. 5

6 List of Tables Table 1: Initiation deaths vs. arrests (N (%)) in South Africa within a 10-year period :17 Table 2: Hospital admissions and amputations in South Africa between 2006 and 2013 (N (%)) :19 List of Figures Figure 1: Sedibeng District Municipality, City of Joburg, Ekurhuleni, City of Tshwane (Gauteng Province) :10 Figure 2: Lusikisiki, Mbizana and Libode (Eastern Cape) :10 Figure 3: Cape Town (Western Cape) :11 Figure 4: Sasolburg (Free State) :11 Figure 5 Sekhukhune and Waterberg (Limpopo) :12 Figure 6: Kwamhlanga (Mpumalanga) :12 Figure 7: Initiation statistics in nine South African Provinces (%) :17 Figure 8: Initiation deaths vs. arrests (in %) in the Eastern Cape over a 10-year period :18 Figure 9: Hospital admissions and amputations in South Africa between 2006 Figure 10: and 2013 (%) :19 Initiation practices and knowledge of risks associated with traditional initiation in the Eastern Cape :20 Figure 11: Non-adherence to the Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Act n0.5 of 2016 among initiates in the Eastern Cape (%) :21 6

7 Glossary of Terms Abakhwetha : The initiates Amakhankatha : Traditional Nurses Inkosi/Morena/Kgoshi/Hosi : A Chief or Traditional Leader Ingcibi : Traditional Surgeon Koma/Ulwaluko/Lebollo/Mophato : Initiation School (initiation rite) Mahlo a Thaba : An initiation expert allowed to visit an Initiation School Maine/Ramophato/Mosuwe : Initiation School Principal Usosutho : An Initiation school owner or a man designated to host the initiation ceremony. Uwela/howela : Crossing over, shedding the old self and embracing the new understanding of the self Vhadabi : Care giver Ikrwala/ Swirhubana : Recent Graduates Isilimela : The Season for Spiritual Orientation 7

8 SECTION A 1. Keywords, Concepts and Methods This report conceptually employs a few keywords and concepts which are fundamental to the work, which are culture, initiation, rites of passage and circumcision. Culture is the totality of human creativity and expression in tangible and intangible forms. The tangible forms include all material products of society created through the genius of human beings. The intangibles consist of areas such as language, beliefs, tastes, attitudes, rituals, religion, etc., which are also the creation of humans to facilitate their individual and collective existence. Culture and cultural products are constantly being changed and altered. They are handed over from generation to generation. Cultures are never static. They are dynamic realities which are in constant flux. Cultures diffuse and absorb influences and traits from other cultures. Cultures distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom and are part of human beings in as much as they are part ofa culture. In today s world, cultural rights, in other words, the right to live and practice one s culture, if it does not infringe on the rights of others, is acknowledged as a human right by the global community. This applies equally to individuals and groups. Initiation practices are universally common to many cultures across the world. They come in many forms and institutional expressions. They are historical indicators used by human communities to mark the transit from one stage of life to another. In fact, it is a rite of passage acknowledging the induction of an individual or individuals into a group or society. In a sense, it recognises a social rebirth for the individual or individuals. The group into which the induction is made could be an open society or a secret society. Initiation rites are often sacred ceremonies with degrees of esotericism. Universally known examples of initiation include the Christian baptism or the Jewish bar mitzvah. Another important set of initiation and the attendant rites are the puberty rites common to some societies. These puberty rites attest to the transition from childhood to adolescence or in some instances adulthood. In many African societies and beyond, shamanism is invariably accessed through an initiation process. Such initiation processes always involve specific rituals and rites of passage which announce and herald the advent or the new status. Male circumcision is in many cases part and parcel of the institution of initiation and in some societies, can also be a practice standing on its own. Male circumcision, which consists of the removal of some or all the foreskin from the penis, has been practised in many human communities and societies from the earliest of time. The oldest available documentary records of circumcision are from ancient Egypt. On the African continent, clearly male circumcision has a history buried in the aeons of time. This procedure is typically carried out on adolescent boys to announce and symbolise their transition to warrior status or adulthood. Although the origins of male circumcision cannot be ascertained, it is largely assumed by anthropologists to have started as a religious sacrificial rite of passage to mark a boy s entry into adulthood. In the instances under consideration, they mark the change from boyhood to adulthood. Initiation often appears as the ushering in of age-sets into adulthood and community responsibilities. In various cultures and societies, they come with different obligations and responsibilities. The rites and devotions which are attached to initiation symbolically lift the practice to sacredness. Ultimately, initiation and rites of passage 8

9 are age-long institutions which make individuals fully integrated into the community. With initiation, individuals or groups graduate into seniority or some elevation in status within specific communities. Initiation and the rites of passage bestow identity to individuals and groups (See Barker & Ricardo 2005 for a detailed account). 1.1 Managing the process and procedure As part of the investigation as well as preparing and compiling this report, a national assignment pertaining to the work had to be undertaken by the CRL Rights Commission in the form of Public hearings. These were done through roundtable discussions in six provinces (Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State, Western Cape and Limpopo) from March to May2017. In respect of managing the process, the CRL Rights Commission, in terms of Act 19 of 2002, resolved to subpoena (through an official correspondence) all the affected parties to appear before the Commission. The following steps were followed: Pursuant to the provisions of the CRL Act, a panel (comprising Commissioners) presided over the public hearings, and the Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission, as designated by the panel, chaired the proceedings. Critical stakeholders (such as Community members, the youth, Traditional Leaders, Government structures, and all affected parties) represented by no less than 133 persons were in the forefront of this process across the designated areas. Those who appeared before the CRL Rights Commission were informed in advance of their appearance in the summons to prepare presentations, which included but were not limited to the following issues: i) Deaths of initiates at initiation schools ii) Botched surgery iii) Illegal initiation schools iv) Penile amputations v) Assaults and injuries at initiation schools vi) Hospital admissions because of botched circumcision vii) Arrests and prosecutions viii) Legislation and its implementation ix) Designated land for initiation practice x) General challenges in relation to the initiation practice xi) Viable solutions and interventions For purposes of a thorough and representative consultation, several central areas through the support and cooperation of the Provincial offices of the Houses of Traditional Leaders, Municipalities, Department of Social Development, South African Police Service, Community Development Foundation of South Africa (CODEFSA), Initiation Task Teams, Department of Health and affected communities, were visited by the Commission. These central areas comprised the following areas: 9

10 Figure 1: Sedibeng District Municipality, City of Joburg, Ekurhuleni and City of Tshwane (Gauteng Province) Figure 2: Lusikisiki, Mbizana and Libode (Eastern Cape) 10

11 Figure 3: Cape Town (Western Cape) Figure 4: Sasolburg (Free State) 11

12 Figure 5 Sekhukhune and Waterberg (Limpopo) Figure 6: Kwamhlanga (Mpumalanga) 12

13 The proceedings were recorded and transcribed, and the collected data were analysed and used to collate and consolidate the Report on Some Problems and Challenges that Lead to Deaths at Initiation Schools in South Africa. Subsequently, the CRL Rights Commission summarised its findings and recommendations. This process was designed to be informative, exhaustive and as inclusive as possible. The outcome drawn from the discussions was not necessarily aimed at reaching consensus or agreeing to disagree. Rather, the object was to use the incidents to arrive at viable solutions and interventions that will inform individuals and collectives of how to solve the problems and challenges that lead to deaths at initiation schools. 13

14 2. Introduction In South Africa, African male initiation is traditionally used as a transitional rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, conferring on the individual the right to participate in the decision-making processes of the clan and the family; to share in the privileges, duties and responsibilities of the community and, in many instances, to take a wife and raise a family. Among the VhaVenda, BaPedi and VaTsonga, mainly found in the northern parts of South Africa, the initiates can be as young as nine years old. Male initiation parallels female initiation as a rite of passage, either from childhood to the teenage phase or from the teenage phase to adulthood in keeping with practices of different cultural communities. In all instances, initiation confers changed social status on the individual. There are instances of even older men being persuaded to undergo initiation. The VhaVenda call it u wela, the Basotho, howela, with the same understanding of the notion of crossing-over, shedding the old self and embracing a new understanding of the self. Even though the practice has survived the passage of time, it is faced with the need for some modernisation and its attendant challenges. Initiation s resilience is being tested against its capacity to adjust to and accommodate these modern tendencies, while simultaneously finding its rightful place and expression. Beyond that, today, male initiation faces the challenge of a public outcry about its various problems. Apart from foregrounding the work in the investigation of deaths at the male initiation schools, the report acknowledges male initiation as a rite of passage in South Africa. The public hearing process also acknowledged that in some communities, young girls also go through initiation rites. Further, the recognition of LGBTI issues is also an important factor to consider in as far as the initiation debate is concerned. There is an urgent need to continue the engagement between traditional leaders, communities and the LGBTI community on the cultural rights to initiation rites for the LGBTI community. However, the focus of this investigation was to deal with initiation in the wake of the deaths at male initiation schools. Under colonial and apartheid rule in South Africa, the initiation rite underwent severe subjugation and prejudice. Yet, despite the apartheid system s cultural oppression and marginalisation, the rite thrived in many communities. The reasons for the resilience and sustained integrity of this institution in the face of oppression and poor conditions merit examination to provide lessons on how to deal with modern challenges. In the wake of the democratic and emancipatory ethos of the 1994 Constitutional and democratic dispensation, the debate on the dignity and role of Ulwaluko/Koma/Lebollo/Mophato (initiation) emerged. The debate, which was prompted by the challenges encountered at initiation schools, can be understood as an aspect of the challenges posed by modern realities to old African cultural practices. Given the principles of sacredness and secrecy of the practice of initiation, these open and public debates 14

15 and the apparent problems faced by the institution present a circumstantially problematic reality. The problems relate to the violation of the rights of initiates, resulting in death, botched surgery, injuries, and penile amputations of initiates during the rite. These debates are taking place in the context of a country that is endeavouring to heal the divisions of the past, to promote respect and tolerance of its diverse cultures, and to protect those cultural practices that were marginalised, and are still threatened in the new dispensation. The problems of the initiation schools constitute an emotive cultural and spiritual issue; therefore the debates and discussions that attempt to find solutions must be conducted with caution and sensitivity. There should be discussions that seek to uphold the spirit and ideals of the country s Constitution, i.e., respect and tolerance of the diverse cultures and the rights of individuals, communities or groups to practise and enjoy these rights, while observing and respecting others rights. Problems emanating from initiation schools are not a recent phenomenon. Many studies, conferences and ultimately institutional and legislative interventions have been undertaken in this respect. While this report will highlight the initial intervention programmes, it will also attempt to explain why the problems posed by initiation schools persist, even after some corrective interventions were made. Important to note is that this report, while it may comment on the initiation rite, does not seek to assess initiation as an institution, but rather the way the institution is conducted. For example, the inquiry does not intend to enter a debate on either the abolition or the continuation of the initiation rite. Yet, it warrants mention that such distinctions are important, because there appears to be a somewhat blanket approach to the issue, which unduly undermines the institution itself rather than dealing with its implementation weaknesses. Discussing the problems of initiation schools leads to other important issues relating to the country s human rights-based ethos. Throughout the ages, the various African rites of passage marking birth, through puberty, adulthood, ageing and ultimately to death have not been treated as simply individual experiences, rites and rights. In African tradition, individual self-understanding, identity and self-actualisation are deeply embedded within the structure and coherence of the community. In other words, community rights are important in informing the individual s rite of passage, rights and responsibilities. The initiation rite is an embodiment of the ideals, values and aspirations of the individual and the community, reflected in the transmission of certain knowledge and practices during the rite. Given this, initiation cannot simply be reduced to an individual experience outside community values, aspirations and heritage. The institution of initiation and its protection is a community s cultural, spiritual and religious right. The Constitution is very clear on protecting and advancing these rights, which is guaranteed by the establishment of various Constitutional bodies that function independently of government in safeguarding rights, including cultural rights, and thereby strengthening Constitutional democracy in the Republic. The public hearings on initiation schools conducted by the CRL Rights Commission come amid nationwide reports and concerns prompted by the rising number of deaths and the various health risks to which initiates 15

16 are exposed at initiation schools in certain parts of the country. The stakeholders pointed out that initiation schools are part of our cultural practices in South Africa, and are protected by the Constitution. The schools are regarded as cultural educational institutions where initiates are taught the values inherent in courtship, social responsibility, discipline and acceptable conduct as well as about their culture. The values filtered down to younger boys as they grow into manhood are critical to their social and psychological development at the middle stage of childhood and adulthood. The adolescent stage, according to Mead (1973), if not monitored, could be destructive for the individual in question, the family, and the community. Mead (ibid) continues to describe this stage as delicate. The boy is no longer a child, nor is he a man, and developmentally excluded from the community. She argued that it is the time when teenagers begin to look beyond themselves and they are in this stage faced with two choices: to join the ranks of responsible adults or follow the band with his peers in an alternative society. (Mead, 1973:3). The role of initiation, therefore, becomes critical in helping to steer a young man towards becoming a fully responsible man of dignity in his community. However, many initiates have died; others have lost their reproductive organs owing to the negligence of traditional surgeons (see Kepe, 2010; Ntombana, 2011 for a detailed account). Some traditional surgeons have been found operating under the influence of alcohol. They often use unsterile instruments, which may contribute to the spread of blood-related diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tetanus. Some initiation schools have been established to have purely opened for economic reasons, and initiates are required to pay exorbitant fees. In addition, some traditional surgeons abuse their positions of power. 2.1 The gravity of the problem in recent times The recurring numbers of hospital admissions, deaths, injuries, penile amputations and other related challenges in the past couple of years (during initiation seasons) can evidently no longer be ignored. The crisis as it should be declared warrants urgent attention by all South Africans concerned. The following statistical analysis is a clear indication of the gravity of the problem in the areas and provinces where initiation is practised. Against this background, the CRL Rights Commission would like to emphasize that the debates on Ulwaluko/Koma/Lebollo/Mophato must reflect the values and spirit of the Constitution and its provisions. These include the right to human dignity, life, freedom and security; the right to healthcare, food, water and social security; and the right to language and culture. 16

17 EASTERN CAPE FREE STATE GAUTENG KWAZULU NATAL LIMPOPO MPUMALANGA NORTH WEST NOTHERN CAPE WESTERN CAPE Total Figure 7: Initiation statistics in nine South African provinces (%) NB: The following figs.(7-11) and statistics were drawn from various sources (i.e. National House of Traditional Leaders, National Prosecution Authority, Human Science Research Council research outputs).for this reason, it was rather complex to do a thorough cross-checking and validation. Therefore, caution is urged as the authenticity of the information cannot be fully guaranteed. Suffice to suggest that it is merely meant to demonstrate the gravity of the problem. (Douglas and Nyembezi, HSRC presentation 2016) Overall, in Fig.7is shown that the Eastern Cape had the highest prevalence of initiates (average 79%) within the 3-year period (i.e. from 2014 to 2016) compared to the other provinces which had averages of 5% or less. The prevalence of initiates in KwaZulu-Natal remains to be zero because of the custom not being practised there. Table 1: Initiation deaths vs. arrests (N (%)) in South Africa within a 9 year period Year Deaths - N (%) Arrests - N (%) (10) (5) (6) 74(28) (17) 38(15) (11) 19(7) (11) 59(23) (13) 18(7) (15) 40(15) (12) 12(5) Total (Douglas and Nyembezi, HSRC presentation in 2016) 17

18 In Table 1 and Fig.8, it can be seen that even when the number of arrests increased, the number of initiate deaths did not decrease by much in the country. The prevalence of arrests was the highest in 2008 (28%) while the prevalence of deaths was the lowest in 2007 (5%). However, there seemed to be no arrests of law defaulters in 2006 and 2007 despite the existence of The Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act No.6 since During that time, there were 5%+ deaths because of irregular initiations. While the number of arrests were high in 2008 (28%), it appears they dipped again in 2009 and 2010 (15% and 7% arrests, respectively). This, therefore, translated to a slight increase in initiate deaths (17% and 11% deaths, respectively). In 2011, arrests escalated again with a prevalenceof23%. After that arrests became intermittent and were the lowest in 2014 (5%). Even when the arrests increased in 2011 the deaths remained the same as in 2010 (7%), while the prevalence increased steadily in 2012 and 2013 with a slight decrease in Deaths Arrests Figure 8: Initiation deaths vs. arrests (in %) in the Eastern Cape over a 10-year period (Douglas and Nyembezi, HSRC presentation 2016) Overall, 5035 hospital admissions and 214 hospital admissions and amputations were observed nationally (Table 2 and Fig.9). Of these, the highest hospital admission prevalence was in December 2006 (10.17%) and the lowest prevalence was in December 2012 (4.35%). While the prevalence of the amputations was zero in December 2008, the highest prevalence of amputations was in June 2009 (21.96%) followed by June 2007 (19.16%) and the lowest was in December 2010 (0.47%) followed by December 2009 (0.93%). 18

19 Table 2: Hospital admissions and amputations in South Africa between 2006 and 2013 (N (%)) Year Hospital admissions N (%) Amputations N (%) 2006 June 288(5.7) 5(2.3) 2006 December 512(10.2) 7(3.3) 2007 June 329(6.5) 41(19.2) 2007 December 311(6.2) 11(5.1) 2008 June 370(7.4) 11(5.1) 2008 December 267(5.3) June 461(9.2) 47(22.0) 2009 December 252(5.0) 2(0.9) 2010 June 389(7.7) 22(10.3) 2010 December 269(5.3) 1(0.5) 2011 June 313(6.2) 10(4.7) 2011 December 338(6.7) 10(4.7) 2012 June 358(7.1) 17(7.9) 2012 December 219(4.4) 6(2.8) 2013 June 359(7.1) 24(11.2) Total (Douglas and Nyembezi, HSRC presentation in 2016) JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE DECEMBER JUNE Hospital admissions Amputations Figure 9: Hospital admissions and amputations in South Africa between 2006 and 2013 (%) (Douglas & Nyembezi, HSRC presentation, 2016) 19

20 Traditional initiation practices appear to be favoured over hospital circumcisions in the Eastern Cape (see Fig.10a). In fact, 63% of initiates underwent traditional initiation, while only 13% underwent hospital initiation. What is striking is that only 17% of initiates understood the risks associated with traditional circumcision without being seen by the doctor, while 67% did not have a clue about these risks (Fig. 10b). a Traditional b Knowledgable None Hospital Unsure No knowledge Figure10: Initiation practices and knowledge of risks associated with traditional initiation in the Eastern Cape (Meel, 2005) In Fig.11, the adherence of the Eastern Cape initiates to The Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act No.6 of 2001 is outlined. Most initiates (32%) were not permitted to undergo the initiation phase by traditional leaders, whereas 24% had no medical certificates before undergoing initiation. While18% were not medically fit to undergo initiation, 5% and 3% were underage for initiation or this was not authorised by their parents, respectively. Evidently, 18% of the initiates did not know whether their initiation surgeons were accredited to conduct the initiation. According to Nyembezi (HSRC presentation, 2015), print media seem to be the best vehicle to increase awareness about initiation and impart knowledge about initiation laws and risks associated with surgeons and initiates not abiding by the law when undertaking the initiation traditions. In fact, there seems to be an increase in articles on initiation from five to 70 articles (since 2010 to 2014). Most of these contain information regarding initiation statistics in South Africa and the most affected areas in terms of hospitalisations and initiations. Other articles cited the commercialisation of the initiation tradition, violence directed to initiates, illegal initiation schools, drug use at non-authorised initiation schools as well as negligence and starvation of initiates at these illegal schools. 20

21 18% 5% 3% 24% 18% 32% Underage initiation Initation not authorised by parents Initiation not permitted by traditional leader No medical fitness before initiation Nomedical certificate before initiation Do not know if trditional surgeon is accredited Figure 11: Non-adherence to the Act among initiates in the Eastern Cape (%) (Sifunda & Nyembezi, 2015) 2.2 Statement of the problem As has been pointed out, male initiation is traditionally used as a transitional rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Despite this traditionally important role, male initiation continues to generate a public outcry. Deaths, among other challenges, at initiation schools have reached a crisis stage. A single death is one too many. Primarily, it is the alarming numbers of deaths of initiates, among other things, which prompted the inquiry and report regarding the initiation schools in South Africa with a view to find lasting solutions. 2.3 Objectives of the hearings The public hearings set out to achieve the following: I. Assessment of present practice in setting up and running an initiation school (ulwaluko/koma/lebollo/mophato); II. Identification of existing community-based support structures for initiation schools; III. Determining the cause of the high number of deaths, botched surgery, penile amputations and injuries at initiation schools; IV. Determining whether the existing legislative and policy provisions relating to male initiation are sufficient to address any emergent problems; V. The prosecution and conviction rates of those arrested for the deaths and assaults of initiates. VI. Solicitation of ideas and recommendations towards possible solutions to the problems and challenges associated with male initiation. 21

22 SECTION B 3. The mandate of the CRL Rights Commission The CRL Rights Commission is one of the institutions established by the Constitution to strengthen Constitutional democracy in the Republic of South Africa and was given effect by Act 19 of By this Act, the Commission is mandated to, inter alia: I. Promote respect for and further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities; II. Promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance, national unity among and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities, based on equality, non-discrimination and free association; III. Foster mutual respect among cultural, religious and linguistic communities; IV. Promote the right of communities to develop their historically diminished heritage. V. Investigate, monitor and research any issue concerning the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities. The CRL Rights Commission is charged by the Constitution to assist communities in promoting and protecting their cultures and recovering their diminished heritage. Because of the colonial and apartheid experience, this sacred practice, the initiation rite, has become or is becoming victim to the diminution of community cultural heritage. Overall, the role of the Commission, in fulfilling its mandate, is to assist communities in safeguarding the integrity and dignity of their cultural practices and the institution of initiation. Furthermore, the Commission should help communities recover the diminished meanings, symbolisms, values and heritage that guided and informed the practice of initiation over the centuries. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Section 31(1) stipulates that persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community a) to enjoy their culture, practice their religion and use their language. The objects of the Commission are set out in section 4 of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, Act 19 of Read this with section 185(1) of the Constitution. 22

23 SECTION C 4. Historical background The practice of the initiation rite and its challenges in contemporary South Africa is arguably informed, not merely by the challenges of modernisation and democratisation, but also the human rights ethos of the new South Africa. The traditional initiation rite is influenced and has been shaped by the historical challenges social, political and economic, particularly those emanating from the colonial and apartheid systems. This section reflects on the factors that inform and shape the initiation rite and initiation schools in the colonial and post-apartheid periods. Furthermore, it shall talk to the various interactions, forums and measures that are aimed at intervening in the challenges and problems of the initiation rite and initiation schools in the post-apartheid South Africa. 4.1 The initiation rite: A rite of passage As indicated earlier, cultures worldwide practise significant rituals that define the individual s social standing and status from one phase of life to the next. The transition from one state or status to the next is potentially disruptive to the smooth functioning of the community and the psychological development and functioning of an individual. Many of these rituals are rites of passage, which are central in defining features of many African societies. Van Gennep (1960), who coined the phrase rites of passage to define the concept, delineated this as a set of symbolic actions, either in ritual or ceremony, as a process intended to mark a transition in the human life cycle of the individual and the community. According to van Gennep (1960), rites of passage are diverse and are often recognised as such in the cultures in which they occur. In practice, society or the community holds such rituals in high esteem, and they play significant roles in defining how the community and/or individuals in the community define themselves and their values. He suggests that rites of passage are rituals and ceremonies surrounding events such as childbirth, puberty, initiation, circumcision, menopause, ageing and death. While the rituals and ceremonies differ in their detail, he observes that they are for the most part universal. In some societies, such rituals are religious and are conducted for religious purposes, as is the case in almost all religious faiths in South Africa. In others, they are traditional and cultural with a strong element of spirituality. Today, the practice of initiation as a rite of passage is often viewed too simply and superficially. Many commentators and policy-makers equate initiation solely with circumcision. This, in turn, perpetuates the misconception and stereotypes associated with the institution, especially in South Africa. Though inaccurate, this simplistic view of initiation; equating it with circumcision, is possibly reinforced by the fact that many initiation rites, especially those for males, are regarded as incomplete without the traditionally performed ritual of circumcision. Indeed, this is a crucial ritual affirming the male s passage to manhood. 23

24 In some South African cultures, the rite is not complete, the transition and its symbolism are viewed as not being complete and an initiate is not viewed as having fulfilled all the requirements of being a complete man unless circumcision has taken place. This important aspect of the initiation rite today poses a severe challenge to public health in the country, particularly regarding HIV/AIDS and other STIs. As indicated earlier, the initiation rite comes at a critical phase in an individual s life. It marks the transition from boyhood to manhood, which is a process by which the individual is equipped to pass from one stage to the next. Hereby, he is welcomed and socialised into the values of a family and community. The initiation rite, mostly for adolescents, is a ritual that mediates the shift of an individual from the socially-recognised status of the child to that of an adult (Broude, 2005). Beyond instilling the values of exercising discipline and being a responsible member of a family and community, initiation allows [for a] young person s knowledge and mental outlook that are compatible with some features of his culture (ibid). These are important values if one wishes to become a man of dignity. In IsiXhosa this is referred to as indoda ene sidima ne sithozela. The male initiation rite has other important functions, such as creating solidarity among men, especially where male ties are important, and is an institutional practice which maintains solidarity within a historical group. The understanding of initiation as a rite of passage among the testimonies of those communities practising it seems to carry a more profound meaning than is expressed in the simple definition encountered in most literature. This initiation rite is a transitional institution for moving from childhood to adulthood. Many outsiders also tend to simplify the notion of initiation. The initiation rite is firmly entrenched in a community s values, beliefs, identity and spirituality (Turner, 1969). The legal age limit of 16 years (See Children s Act 38 of 2005 for a detailed account) for undergoing initiation is indicative of a simplified definition of initiation and its purposes in African traditions. A similar point can be made regarding the initiation process as a school. This latter point raises questions as to whether the word Ulwaluko/Koma/Lebollo/Mophato as used by the cultural communities attaching profound cultural meaning to it does, in fact, carry the same meaning as initiation school. While inherently there is nothing wrong using the word school when referring to an initiation rite, it potentially allows imprecise interpretations, the most obvious being in the Western sense creating an opportunity for misunderstanding. The term school could lead to the simplification of the critical cultural and spiritual values of the initiation rite. Therefore, we should be able to use our indigenous names which better and more precisely define what we mean. 4.2 Initiation as a Sacred Ritual Ever since time immemorial, the initiation season has always been seen as the season for orthodox spiritual orientation of the young initiates. Given the auspicious socio-spiritual occasion of the event, people went to great lengths to ensure that preparations and rules are observed while partaking in this sacred ritual. 24

25 This is so because it is during the initiation process that the qualities of personal assertiveness are instilled in the initiates. The approach of the process of this socio-spiritual orientation is to emphasize that the imperative of being a man, is to give honour to all the norms of one s culture and spiritual heritage. Some people regard this sacred custom; this rite of spiritual orientation (performed in temples disparagingly called: The School in the Bush or the Mountains) * as the shrine of a people s soul. It is an occasion in which the initiates esoterically re-ignite the spiritual consciousness of the male person. Thus, the sacredness of this process of ritual purification (ukukhutshwa ubu Nqambi) remains inviolate regardless of whether it s done collectively or not. Thus great care must be taken, by the initiates themselves or their principals and nurses, not to treat this time-honoured and sacred custom sacrilegiously, as such an act trivializes the ritual in a manner that detracts from its spirituality. 4.3 The initiation rite in the Colonial Period The scholarship on the impact of colonialism on traditional African cultures and customs is vast. However, it is necessary to briefly highlight some of the intrusive and unhelpful practices of the colonial experience regarding African initiation rites. Reflection on the historical reality of the initiation rite will help place in clear perspective some of the real and perceived challenges to the rite in South Africa. During this discussion, it must be noted that, even under conditions of colonial subjugation, the rite thrived in many African countries, including South Africa. Commonly, it is recognised that acculturation was a cornerstone of the colonial strategies for ruling African people. This meant that Africans were forced to abandon their indigenous practices and structures and adopt the more, so-called enlightened modern Western colonial belief systems and practices. Different terminologies were used by the colonialists in their attempts to reduce African cultural practices to inferior status, while at the same time affirming the cultural superiority of the colonial masters. Practices such as initiation were referred to as barbaric. Missionaries referred to initiation as pagan (Ntombana, 2016:637). All these qualifications were intended to eventually eliminate the practice. Definitions of the initiation rite by many scholars and practitioners who favoured the colonial project and its tenets were mainly a reflection and consolidation of stereotypes about African cultures and prejudices inherent in the Western colonial system. For example, in the study conducted in Malawi on the Chewa, Kaspin (1990:43) states that:. The purpose of male initiation is to turn boys into sexual men and predator men of the Nyau, a simultaneous transformation that takes place when they are led for the first time into the Nyau meeting place. At the entrance of the graveyard, they pass blindfolded through the cavernous body of the antelope, symbolizing their death as children and their rebirth as beasts Female initiation is the complement of male initiation, for its purpose is to turn girls into succulent meat. The cultural practice was shunned and with the expansion of the missionary project of Christianisation, it 25

26 became difficult for the institution of initiation to find legitimate expression. In many parts of the continent, communities resorted to secrecy. In South Africa, the practice was often referred to as donker skool (Afrikaans: dark school), indicating the barbarism and backwardness of the practice. This rhetorical phrase, dark school, many of the then urban middle-class African people came to use when expressing hatred or dissociation towards this cultural practice. Despite the apartheid subjugation and marginalisation of many African cultural practices, the initiation rite and circumcision ritual continued to thrive. In African society, the rite of passage is deeply embedded, giving it the resilience it enjoys today through its value within communities. This can be attributed to various reasons; some of which are indicated below. First, despite the constant harassment by the apartheid authorities, the rural communities retained a relatively strong social system starting with the family and going all the way through the political structures centred in chieftaincy. The values and traditions of the community were strictly adhered to and enforced by all its members, especially the elders. Secondly, the Apartheid Pass Laws restricted the movement of black South Africans. Individual mobility was restricted, but those who had left their homes to work on the mines and in the cities, came back to their communities when initiation time arrived for them or their children. In addition, even while the practice was carried out under difficult circumstances, frequent cases of death did not occur. 4.4 Initiation schools in post-apartheid South Africa The post-1994 conditions, with a new Constitution and the creation of a society with new values, affected this long-established ritual in a mostly negative way. First, the urbanisation phenomenon in the new dispensation meant that people departed their rural homes for the towns and cities, contributing to a collapse in the management of the practice. The traditional role and status of traditional leaders and elders as principals and overseers of initiation schools either collapsed or declined. The problems facing the initiation schools now could also be indicative of the collapse or loss of the significance of the traditional authority structures in many communities and the assertiveness of young people as important players in the resulting vacuum. Since 1994, with the new democratic and Constitutional dispensation, emphasis on individual human rights has become important. Indicating that what was regarded as representative of community identity had changed, as people tended to follow novel inclinations. Long-held cultural values declined. For example, while it was a community expectation for all young people to be initiated at a certain age, individual youngsters now have the right to choose not to participate in the initiation practice. (See the Children s Act 38 of 2005, as testimony to this claim). In Limpopo, the age factor has been observed differently, and this peculiarity seems to be informed by long standing cultural idiosyncrasies: Regarding the Children s Act, our Initiation School Act of 2016 puts the age of 12 while the Children s Act speaks of the age of 16. Our Act speaks of initiation specifically and not children in general like the Children s Act. We have the Venda culture that does it from age 8. We agreed as a Province that 12 is an appro- 26

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