Jul 16, 2015 | Press Release

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The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) Civil Society Forum (CSF) is deeply concerned about the reported deaths of initiates during the initiation period. To date, over 30 boys and young men have reportedly died since the start of the initiation season, while many more have been subjected to abuse and left traumatised.

“This abnormality cannot and should not be a new normal for us as a nation. One death is one death too many. Enough is enough, this insanity must stop,” said Mabalane Mfundisi, Acting Chairperson of SANAC CSF.

It is time we accept that this is a national crisis. The regular deaths of young men every winter and summer initiation seasons is an indictment to us all. It is our collective shame that we cannot guarantee these young men their right to life. Civil society welcomes the involvement of the Hawks and we hope that the Minister of Police will also consider the deployment of police during initiation season to deal with the criminals masquerading as practitioners of this important custom.

We appreciate that there are tens of thousands of young men who return home safely from the initiation schools. However, that should not cloud us into thinking what they are all taught healthy forms of masculinities at the initiation schools. We need to interrogate what is being taught at all initiation schools to ensure that the content is not harmful to the young men and/or to those they come into contact with.

Initiation schools are meant to be spaces for the development and promotion of healthy masculinities. Furthermore, they should help to enhance resilience and the overall well-being of the young men who go there, teach about ethical community leadership, and active and responsible citizenry. It is our view that the initiation process should not be viewed outside the complexities of the broader challenges in our communities. That families and certain communities are unable to protect their young reflects a broader structural and psycho-social problem in our country. Equally, the commercialisation of the initiation process requires us to effectively deal with the socio-economic challenges that enable the disregard for young men’s lives and the drive to make as much money as possible from the process.

“We call on the Ministry of Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to urgently lead an Inter-Ministerial Committee in which all relevant stakeholders will review initiation schools, starting with the winter season reports, and to come up with a comprehensive response plan that will help empower families and communities to deal with the initiation challenges,” said Mfundisi.

The SANAC CSF, led by the Traditional Leaders and Yesingane Network (Children’s) Sectors proposes various solutions that we will table for engagement with COGTA which are as follows:

  1. The circumcision process should be compliant with both S28 of the Constitution and the Children’s Act.
  2. Registration of initiates to be should take place
  3. A 3 months period for the initiation season, be it in an urban or rural setting
  4. Parents of initiates and the initiates themselves must complete a consent form.
  5. Initiates should be above the age of 16 years to ensure that they are mature enough to make an informed decision relating to consent.
  6. If initiation is in an urban area, the initiation school principal must apply for permission from the relevant authority to run the school (e.g. to the municipality in an urban area or a farm owner and khosi/inkosi in a rural area)
  7. A pre-medical certificate must be produced.
  8. A black medical doctor who has gone through to the initiation custom must be identified to oversee and monitor the initiation school(s).
  9. Traditional surgeons and nurses must be trained and certificated.
  10. An initiation school principal and the traditional nurse should be 40 years and above and should have relevant experience.
  11. We are encouraging that the school going boys must be allowed to finish Grade 12 before going to the initiation school in areas where the peer pressure is an issue.
  12. There should be designated areas for initiation schools. Any initiation school found outside the designated area should be declared illegal and those operating it should be prosecuted.
  13. We propose that the initiationshould be winter. This period should be between the start of May and end of July every season. We however agree that there should be provincial preferences in terms of performing the custom.
  14. Initiation forums within communities must be established to monitor initiation activities during the initiation period. The modus operandi of these forums should be defined through community consultations that COGTA should facilitate.
  15. Drinking and smoking must be totally disallowed in the initiation school by principals and nurses.
  16. Any initiate to-be must not be allowed in the initiation premises if in their family they are not practising the custom.
  17. A unit of both doctors and police who have gone through the practice must be established in areas where initiation custom is practiced.
  18. Government should have regular engagements and awareness with Traditional Leaders on initiation to ensure that any bottlenecks are dealt with.

Issued by SANAC Civil Society Forum
For more information, contact Mthetho Tshemese – 071 174 6433