‘Look after our initiates’ Ndlambe speaker urges

The last Ndlambe council meeting of the year on Friday December 8 began with Speaker Andile Marasi encouraging [male] public representatives to visit the 427 children currently undergoing customary initiation (ulwaluko) across the municipality.

The municipal Speaker is designated the chairperson of every municipality’s local initiation forum.

The Customary Initiation Act sets out the roles and responsibilities of national government and provincial government in managing and monitoring ulwaluko practices and practitioners across South Africa, through the Department of Cooperative Governance (COGTA). Local and Metro municipalities play an important role in coordinating health, safety and social services in their jurisdiction to ensure the boys’ safety in the bush and safe return home. The oversight structures are, in cascading order, the Provincial Initiation Coordinating Committee, chaired by the COGTA MEC; the provincial initiation task team (PITT), the district initiation forum and (in Sarah Baartman seven) local initiation forums.

The shooting of an initiate in Walmer Township, Gqeberha this week brings the total number of initiation related deaths in the Eastern Cape this season to 21.

Ndlambe, Makana and the Sarah Baartman District in general, have a good record of ensuring initiates’ physical safety, however.

Makhi Mka, the Department of Health’s designated medical officer for traditional initiation schools in the Sarah Baartman District confirmed on Tuesday that there had been no adverse events when it came to the physical safety of the 427 initiates in Ndlambe or the 778 boys undergoing ulwako in Makana.

“In the Sarah Baartman District there have been no deaths, no hospital admissions and no amputations,” said Mkha, whose dual qualification as registered nurse and traditional nurse (inkhankhatha) makes him well suited to carry out the role.

According to Mkha, Amathole was the only other district municipality in the province where there had been no deaths or hospital admissions.

When would the initiation season be complete?

“That’s hard to say,” said Mkha. “The mgidis (homecoming ceremonies for initiates) started last weekend. But there was a family coming to the Joza clinic today [Tuesday] asking for screening forms. So they will only start once that is approved.”

According to the provincial health department’s areas of operation, Makana and Ndlambe fall under the Makana Subdistrict. Statistics from the subdistrict indicate that a total of 1207 boys were screened at its clinics for ulwako – 728 from the Makana municipal area and 479 from Ndlambe.

Appeal to ‘decent men’

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs said it noted with deep sadness the killing of initiates at an initiation school in Ngqamakhwe in the Eastern Cape on December 5.

The committee chairperson, Fikile Xasa, said it was behind the families during this extremely difficult time and called on law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned in investigating the incident.

“The committee has consistently called for initiation schools to be compliant with the provisions of Customary Initiation Bill to safeguard the lives of initiates against violent crimes,” the committee said in a statement.

“Furthermore, the committee is appealing to decent men during this initiation season to assist in strengthening the protection of initiates in their communities.”

After its oversight visit to initiation schools in the Eastern Cape in July 2022, the committee proposed that seasonal special courts should be established to deal exclusively with initiation cases to ensure initiation-related cases are prioritised and fast-tracked.

“The committee is reiterating this call and also calling that the Traditional Courts Act should assist with the establishment of seasonal special initiation courts,” the statement said.