The initiation custom in the Western Cape has been plunged into disaster, with the death of at least three initiates (abakhwetha) since the start of the initiation season.
Two initiates died in Khayelitsha and in Philippi respectively at the start season, and one more died in Langa over the weekend, casting some serious doubt about the capabilities of amakhankatha (guardians) to look well after the initiates.
Traditional custodians and health practitioners say they are saddened by deaths of abakhwetha at the hands of amakhankatha.
They are now calling for stringent measures to be put in place to prevent further deaths and to prevent the tradition from losing its dignity.
While the deaths of abakhwetha are common in some parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape has been highly effective and regarded for its efficiency in conducting the practice. That record has since been tainted by the recent deaths, all in one season.
Former member of Imbo Initiation Forum and founder, Alfred Magwaca, said measures have to be put in place to curb the deaths.
He slammed the “pompous guardians” for not listening to the elders.”We have been a good example to other areas. I am not saying we are perfect; we have our mistakes, but this is a disgrace. Whoever was looking after these boys should have seen the signs.
“We need to ask ourselves questions, was the Langa boy fit to go to the school? There are letters that they (abakhwetha) take to the committee and the guardians. What did it entail?
“The doctor that diagnosed him before going there, did he see anything wrong with him? We are told the paramedics went there at some point to examine him, what did they see and recommend?
“We need to get to the bottom of this. This should be the last initiate to die out of negligence,” he said.
Mr Magwaca did not mince his words, calling for a heavy penalty to be imposed on those found to be responsible for the deaths. He urged the government to put measures in placeto train inexperienced guardians and encouraged the community to get involved when abakhwetha embark on the passage to manhood.
He bemoaned the involvement of money in the practice, saying it contributed to some of the problems. “People are not doing the job for passion now, they are after money. Ingcibi (traditional surgeon) asks R800 per boy. That amount is ridiculous. That is why people are so pompous. The Department of Arts and Culture needs to work with us,” he said.
“Groups like Sonke Gender, traditional leaders, Health Department should all be involved.”
Mr Magwaca also called for the registration of all the guardians, saying that would encourage accountability. He said most abakhwetha looked after many initiates, and that put them at risk.
Well-known ingcibi, Sikelela Zokufa shared some of Mr Magwaca’s sentiments. However, he said the deaths were not limited to negligence. He said part of the problem, and a big challenge, were parents who were not proud of the culture.
He said in his assessment, the three boys did not die because of negligence, but by things outside the culture.
He said for instance, the boy in Khayelitsha died of food poisoning. He believes the one in Philippi was victim of witchcraft, and the one from Langa had an allergy. He said the deaths also put a dent in their reputation.
“The biggest challenge is that parents do not care. Even if they are informed of certain concerns, they take time to respond. Another thing is that people need to practise their rituals before their sons go to initiation. For instance if you believe in muti, do that and if you believe in prayer, do that,” he said.
Mr Zokufa also called on parents to be honest about their children’s lifestyles. He said some children used drugs, and when they no longer had access to them, it became a problem.
“Tell the truth to iingcibi so that they will know. If you tell them that your son is doing drugs, they can make adjustment. I repeat that parents are not proud about the culture. Their involvement is highly needed,” he said.