Every year, thousands of youths leave their parents to spend weeks in the care of traditional leaders at an initiation school where they are circumcised, a rite of passage commonly referred to as "Ukwaluka" or "going to the mountain".
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the rite of passage, as there have been many deaths as a result of botched circumcisions in recent years.
This has led to the age-old cultural practice coming under scrutiny, as a result of initiates' deaths at the hands of unscrupulous practitioners. The controversy surrounding the movie "Inxeba" indicates the emotions this scrutiny stirs up.
Number of Deaths at Initiation Schools by Year
1. December 2009: 36 initiates
2. December 2010: 21 initiates
3. December 2011: 36 initiates
4. December 2012: 25 initiates
5. December 2013: 43 initiates
6. December 2014: 28 initiates
7. December 2015: 46 initiates
8. December 2016: 31 initiates
9. December 2017: 17 initiates
A total of 1,077 deaths have been recorded since 1995 (see graph below)
The Eastern Cape government is set to announce a state of readiness for winter initiation season, as many young men will be undergoing initiation in June and July.
Government has tabled a bill requiring that initiates have to be at least 16 before being sent to initiation school.
The Customary Initiation Bill, tabled by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Zweli Mkhize in Parliament in April, also states that it is imperative that iNgcibi (traditional surgeons) are registered, and that they have their registration letters at all times to identify that they have been vetted and trained to perform the initiation.
This bill split MPs between those in agreement with it, for the safety of initiates, and those against it because they believe it will regulate and change custom.
Parents, in the meantime, must take care of their sons' safety themselves.
3 things for parents to look out for:
1. Be on the lookout for anyone who masquerades as an initiation surgeon.
2. Verify that the initiation school is registered with the department of health.
3. Ensure your child goes for a medical examination before going to get initiated to mitigate any health risks.
Things to consider in preparation:
1. As guardians or parents of the child, it important to ensure that there is a sufficient budget for the ceremonies involved.
2. Should the need arise, ensure that the child goes to counselling or is mentally ready for initiation.
3. Ensure that you have direct contact with iKhankatha (the caregiver) assigned to your child.