• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

Young boys tortured and abused towards manhood

A recent report of a young Eastern Cape initiate who was tortured and beaten in an initiation school last week brought to light the ever-growing challenges of the initiation custom.


Traditional leaders, academics and politicians highlight the growing number of fly-by-night circumcisers who are motivated by financial gain and poor environmental conditions and as the leading causes to the alarming number of initiates that die in the Eastern Cape each season.


Despite rigorous multi-stakeholder measures to prevent loses, 453 circumcised initiates have died between June 2006 and June 2013 according to a report by the Eastern Cape Department of Health. This winter season, up to 12 young lives were lost in the province.


According to a study done by Dr Mbuyiselo Douglas and Dr Anam Nyembezi titled, “Challenges facing traditional male circumcision in the Eastern Cape” published in 2015, ‘physical torture’ is used as a strategy designed to discipline and to prepare initiates for the hardships of manhood.

“Endurance testing has reached far-reaching forms that could be classified as torture (extreme fluid restrictions, chronic sleep deprivation, assaults). All initiates suffer from some form of abuse. Severe beatings on their heads, and the practice of ‘nose pulling’ sometimes leads to nasal lacerations. Even penile bandages are often tightened as a form of punishment and this occurs frequently as initiates are being burnt with objects,” an extract from the study.


Douglas and Nyembezi argue that the hierarchy that exists within initiation schools dictates that initiates are not supposed to complain about pain, even though this can be a sign of a medical complication. This speaks to pain they may have when the penile blood supply is impaired. They also cite that marijuana and alcohol abuse amongst attendants and so-called helpers is the norm that often leads to physical abuse of the initiates.


This for them, is an issue compounded by conflicting practices and a leadership crisis.

Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, Chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders (Contralesa) in the Eastern Cape argues that fly-by-night circumcisers motivated by financial gain add more suffering to initiates as they are not well-equipped to circumcise.

An illegal traditional surgeon charges as low as R150 whereas legitimate traditional surgeons charge around R600. “People must treat the sacred custom of male circumcision with respect. The law has been ordained by the government to help curb deaths of initiates and it clearly states that no child under the age of 18 may be circumcised and that parents should make sure that the traditional surgeon chosen is a registered person,” said Nonkonyana.


Mamkeli Ngam, spokesperson for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) believes that if people worked together with their traditional leaders and government, measures put in place to ensure the safety of children would be working by now.

“Parents are responsible for keeping their kids safe. No case has been opened yet regarding the twelve initiates that died in the province during this June season. Cogta is still waiting for post-mortem results in order to ascertain what is now happening and how we are going to move forward,” said Ngam.


The study also reveals the growing concern over how some of the deaths are caused by children who are not used to sleeping on dusty ground in winter as well as ‘very hot conditions in summer that contribute to sweating and dehydration of children in the bush’.

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