Traditional leaders in Pondoland in the Eastern Cape say the blame for the proliferation of illegal initiation schools in the region should be laid squarely at their doors.
Nkosi Mlimandlela Ndamase of the Ngqubusini Traditional Council in Ngqeleni said criminals have hijacked the custom because traditional leaders, and parents to a lesser extent, have shunned the responsibility of making sure that initiation doesn’t go wrong.
“As a traditional leader, you should know how many boys will be circumcised, where, when, by whom, and who does the monitoring at the site. Control mechanisms have lapsed because of us and parents. Every year we continue to act surprised as if we didn’t know or we were not aware of these potential problems. We always respond with panic, as if we were not aware that these things would happen.”
Ndamase said the only way to deal with illegal circumcision schools once and for all would be for traditional leaders, in consultation with government and the department of health, to identify a number of sites in the region where initiation would take place.
“Circumcision would happen there and nowhere else,” said Ndamase.
“All accredited iingcibi (traditional surgeons) would work from there and, at the end, the local king or the department of health should pay them a stipend.”
He dismissed what was currently happening as “purely criminal. What is happening now, we see boys circumcised a year ago coming back this year pretending to be iingcibi. Some of these boys circumcise themselves. It’s chaos. Some don’t even consult their parents.”
Mthawelanga Ndamase, a senior traditional leader in Libode, said parents should carry as much blame as traditional leaders.
“It is the parents’ responsibility to watch over their children. In most cases, parents don’t even press charges in cases of illegal initiation. If they do, they don’t follow the case to its conclusion.”
He said community forums, which were established to monitor initiation schools, have proven to be ineffective.
“Men just don’t monitor these schools and things go wrong.”
Phakamile Dikiswa, a headman in Nkumondeni near Nqgeleni, said it was apathy from traditional leaders that has caused criminals to see a gap in the system.
“Zuko Gwimilili (15) is the very first boy to die here. I always monitor this area and I have closed countless illegal schools over the years. When I heard about this one where Zuko died I closed it too and 10 other boys were rescued to hospital.”
Mlondolozi Mkono, a traditional surgeon with seven years’ experience, also blamed traditional leaders.
“It does happen that we go through the whole initiation season without a single traditional leader coming and seeing if we are doing things by the book and I think it is a shame. I have not had a single fatality since I started initiation and I have circumcised more than 500 boys.”
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