The death of young men due to botched circumcisions at initiation schools in Eastern Cape has been a thorn in side of the cultural practice.
With the intervention of traditional leaders, the numbers seem to have dropped but a new problem is threatening the tradition.
Since 2007, the deaths have dropped to 26 by June this year but another problem has emerged as initiation schools are being seen as places that breed criminals.
The Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders is playing a leading role in restoring the practice to its former status, which is about producing men who are of value to their families, communities and the country.
Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima said they were “on top of the deaths”.
“The main problem is that those who return to the society are not what is expected of them. They do not add value to the community,” he said.
Matanzima said the problem was that amakrwala (young men who have recently completed the circumcision ritual) were thieves and rapists terrorising their communities.
“They are supposed to be caring for their families, making sure their livestock is well, provide for their families if they are not at school and be helpful to the community at large. With the moral decay in the country they are supposed to be an example, not part of the problem,” said Matanzima.
He said that, as part of the war on moral degeneration in initiation schools, the House of Traditional Leaders had held a meeting with traditional surgeons and doctors (ingcibi na ma Khankatha).
“The meeting was about sharing experience and expertise. We made brochures detailing the responsibilities of parents, the boy going to initiation school, the community, the traditional leaders and the ingcibi ,” he said.
He said that the responsibility of the parents was to make preparations, select an ingcibi and ensure the boy was ready physically and emotionally, did not have sex and did not do bad things that could lead to bad luck while in the school.
Matanzima said the traditional leader had to talk with the boys going to initiation school, and the community had to select the place for the school.
Matanzima said that the tendency of young men loitering at initiation schools had to stop.
“That is where the problem starts. Then they start smoking drugs. Respectable men must go there to monitor the situation, and teach the initiates about their responsibilities when they return home.”
Prof Masilo Lamla, an anthropologist at Walter Sisulu University, said initiation was not about circumcision only and it served as a passage from childhood to adulthood.
Lamla said initiation school served as a force for moral regeneration and should teach boys how to be of value to their communities.