Limpopo ready for initiation season

  • by African Times
  • 2 Years ago
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WHILE the traditional initiation season spells fear and panic due to the spate of initiates deaths in other provinces, Limpopo’s season has proven over the years to be safe without any incidents of casualties.

Provincial MEC for co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs Jerry Ndou said the province is ready to build on the success of the previous years, including 2017 where all initiates enrolled into traditional initiation schools returned home alive.

Ndou said the province’s schools enrolled 15 633 boys and 4 367 girls, which translates to a total of 20 000 initiates.

He said the 2018 initiation school plan provides a clear timetable of key activities that would be taken in preparation for the initiation season and processed to be followed. Ndou said these include timelines for applications, workshops for senior traditional leaders and management of initiation schools.

He said this level of planning is behind the success of the province’s clean bill of health which was only blemished in 2016 when three initiates died.

Ndou said the role played by stakeholders including the department of health, education, SAPS, traditional healers and NGOs is critical and should be maintained.

He said the province needs to continue to clamp down on illegal initiation schools and that working with police, the illegal initiation schools should be closed down and cases opened against illegal operators.

“We condemn strongly the illegal initiation schools operating. Let us always be reminded that only Senior Traditional Leaders can be licensed to operate an initiation school,” he said.

Head of Department in the province’s Department of Health, Dr Ntsile Kgaphole believes that history is one of the secrets behind Limpopo’s impressive record in traditional initiation.

“Limpopo has three [main] tribes, the Venda the Tsonga and the Pedi. We have all been subscribing to one way of doing things regarding traditional initiation. Our traditional chiefs have historically been consulting private doctors to look after the initiation schools in the initiation season,” said Kgaphola.

In 2017, 16 initiates in the Eastern Cape died in the name of trying to pursue this rite of passage from boyhood to manhood and a total of 19 traditional surgeons and nurses were arrested in different initiation schools.

The commission for the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic communities (CRL) last year released its report into deaths and injuries of initiation schools in South Africa. The investigation began after beatings, assaults and health risks increased at initiation schools.

Amongst its findings was that the veil of secrecy around initiation schools were to blame for the deaths and that one of the major causes of penile imputation was the incompetent performance of circumcision rituals at the schools.

Some initiates suffered pneumonia, meningitis, dehydration and hunger during the process. The commission also found out that the level of Physical abuse of initiates was poorly investigated because the police did not want to get involved in cultural affairs. “Some cases are dismissed or struck off the roll because poor evidence or lack of witnesses,” said the Commission chairperson Thokozani Mkhwanazi- Xaluva.

Although assaults and abuse were the second-leading cause of death in initiation schools, following dehydration according to research by civil society groups, it was a phenomenon that initiates beat each other up and are beaten by their peers and leaders.

Surgical operations themselves were the third cause of death, initiates would suffer blood loss, which led to death or a wound would become septic and gangrenous and that would lead to death or amputation.

Natural causes, which used to be the leading cause of death before government introduced ‘pre-screening’s’ that assessed the students before admission to the school, were the fourth leading cause of death.

These are amongst a plethora of instances reasons that got the government in 2015 considering suspending initiation schools and barring traditional surgeons from performing circumcisions.

The government wanted to implement a plan where only hospitals and qualified medical doctors would perform the procedure to curb the number of deaths and injuries.

But the Limpopo provincial government had already heeded the call of the commission’s recommendation that communities should set up traditional leadership structures to oversee initiation schools and that traditional surgeons, nurses and principals needed to be trained, registered and accredited.

But the Limpopo provincial government had already heeded the call of the commission’s recommendation that communities should set up traditional leadership structures to oversee initiation schools and that traditional surgeons, nurses and principals needed to be trained, registered and accredited.

Dr Kgaphole, who underwent the rite of passage in his teens, worked as a medical doctor in the field of traditional initiation in Sekhukhune for more than two decades. He said that the initial circumcision was done by traditional surgeons then qualified doctors would attend to the initiates afterwards to check for any problems.

This was during the Bantustan homeland administration dispensation when initiation schools were not formalised.

There are many rules that come with this process of traditional initiation that includes the barring of those who are not initiates and have not been circumcised from entering the schools on the mountains.

“The assurance here is that all the all these team members are from the mountain. When the new dispensation came in 1994 Limpopo was already well advanced in that regard. We started doing things formally with the traditional leaders,” said Dr Kgapole.

“We developed a plan that would enable us to identify former initiates who are health professionals and dispense those teams to be on standby in the nearby hospitals to the traditional schools, which were also regulated not to have more than 300 initiates at a time. So, the hospitals were always alert,” said Kgapole.

“These teams of medical professional are also responsible to give out medication that includes pain killers, antibiotics and whatever medication the initiates would need as they would have gone through a thorough process of pre-screening with medical doctors to evaluate if they were fit enough to undergo the initiation process,” he said.

Dr Kgapole also emphasised that only the former initiates plan with the traditional leaders and the department, former initiates in the medical profession and traditional leaders meet two or three months before each season to come up with preventative measures.

The commission last year also started talking to the Department of Social Development to encourage it to provide food parcels to initiates all over the country because some of them were on social grants.

“The underlying factor here is that our provincial government supports and give the schools a subsidy with some funds for food, clean water, mobile toilets etcetera,” said Kgapole.

Amongst regulations of the traditional initiation schools in Limpopo is that assaults and violence should be curbed by the owner of the school and that close supervision is done by a team appointed by a traditional leader.

Another is that no one school should have more than 500 students per season and the circumcision process should be drawn to a close within two or three days after which a medical doctor takes over to do the final check-up if need be, chronic medication and clinics get ready for any irregularities.

The department of health in Limpopo has mastered the identification and management of sites, safe and hygienic practices, pre-and post-care, cultural value of initiation, social and family roles and responsibilities of initiates which otherwise is still a challenge to the rest of the country.

The Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Obed Bapela told Parliament that Government was contemplating suspending traditional initiation schools so that they could work on a new policy to regulate traditional initiation.

The policy would criminalise all illegal or unregistered initiation schools and would prescribe a minimum age of initiation-some initiates were found to be as young as eighth years old. They were going to let traditional leaders play 80% role in initiation.

Even though the Eastern Cape recorded the lowest number of initiate deaths in decades last winter Limpopo still has the more successful record overall when it comes to traditional initiation.

In his State of the Province Address in Polokwane recently Premier Chupu Mathabatha praised traditional leaders for their role in ensuring a smooth initiation season.

“We look forward to yet another fruitful working relationship with the House of Traditional Leaders. A number of developmental projects in our province enjoys support of our traditional leaders,” said Mathabatha.

“It is because of this cordial relationship that Limpopo continues to deliver incident-free initiation school seasons, year-in and year-out,” he said.

Ndou said there are always questions on whether in this time this cultural practice is still necessary, and that people suggested things be done the western way. He said communities know and appreciate the importance of initiation.

“Initiation is a rite of passage. It marks entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It further indicates formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components. In an extended sense, it also signifies a transformation in which the initiate is ‘reborn’ into a new role. It is through this process that young boys are prepared to be responsible caring men and husbands of the future.

“Our girls are also prepared through initiation to be responsible wives and mothers. This process helps us preserve our culture, identity and customs, and equally so who we are. It is unfortunate that due to some bad practices and greed that sometimes leads to deaths and injuries, this important cultural practice is getting a bad image. We, as traditional leaders, have a responsibility to play a critical role in matters of culture in line with the provisions of the 2003 Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act No.41 of 2003 and Regulations,” said Ndou. – Mukurukuru Media

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