The toll of young initiates who have lost their lives in the Eastern Cape in the summer initiation season has risen to 34.
The national executive committee of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) has expressed shock at the carnage, describing the deaths as unwarranted and unacceptable.
Contralesa secretary-general Zolani Mkiva said: “This is a monumental disaster for the institution of traditional leadership and the country at large.”
The 2021 summer traditional season began on November 12, and is set to run until January 12.
Eastern Cape provincial Cogta spokesperson, Mamnkeli Ngam confirmed the deaths.
Ngam was among departmental officials who accompanied Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha on a visit to several initiation schools and initiation lodges in Whittlesea, outside Komani in the Chris Hani district on Tuesday.
This was shortly after a visit by a Cogta portfolio committee led by Thabo Matiwane, who also visited the OR Tambo district.
Ngam disclosed that most of the deaths had been in the two districts.
“The MEC was happy with the work of the traditional initiation forum teams in the province,” Ngam said.
“He believes if it weren’t for their commitment and sacrifices, the situation could have been more catastrophic.”
Nqatha lashed out at parents, saying they had a hand in the deaths of initiates.
In most cases, this was because initiates died from dehydration, after parents allegedly instructed amakhankatha (traditional nurses) to deny them drinking water.
Parents must know they are responsible for their actions on whether initiates die at initiation schools or come back alive.
Cogta MEC Xolile Nqatha
“Parents must know they are responsible for their actions on whether initiates die at initiation schools or come back alive.”
Mkiva expressed condolences to the families of the dead initiates.
“Not a single young man should lose his life for undergoing the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
“All criminal elements involved in running bogus initiation schools, should be charged with human trafficking and murder, and convicted.”
Mkiva said bogus iingcibi (traditional surgeons) and amakhankatha were the main culprits behind the deaths of so many initiates.
Contralesa called on law enforcement agencies to act swiftly and arrest those involved.
Mkiva said initiation schools needed to be monitored by full-time personnel.
“We must be seen to be doing something drastic and different about this.
“The government should give traditional initiation schools the same recognition and attention it gives to formal education and health facilities.”
Mkiva said Contralesa would put a formal policy proposal to the government as a matter of urgency.
He said ulwaluko was an important ritual for the nation and had produced young regiments, patriots and future SA leaders.
He said they wanted the custom to be made central to the country’s own African renaissance efforts.