DEATH OF INITIATES SHOULDN’T BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
By: Sandile Gumede
A lot has been said about the death of initiates in circumcision schools in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. Some without understanding the situation better are calling for the abolishment of this tradition, which is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
One cannot disguise his bitterness about the fatalities, which have become the cause for concern in the initiation schools, clouding the beauties of this tradition. One death is one too many. This is a clear indictment that there is something that needs to be corrected – even if it means seeking intervention from doctors, so be it.
However, I beg to differ with those who suggest abolishment. The question that pops in my mind when listening to these unfounded suggestions is how long a black person should compromise his tradition because someone else disapproves of it?
The problem that this country has is that those who are in the position of power, more often than not, fail to come up with solutions because they fail to identify the problem.
This tradition is old as hills in the Nguni tribes, including the Zulu nation even though some think it belongs to a certain tribe, especially the Xhosa people. In the Zulu culture, there were many factors that led to the “abandonment” of this practice. One of the factors was that young boys who were supposed to undergo this rite of passage were recruited to wars, so there was no time to spend waiting for the wound to heal. So the Great King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation abolished it, so that his course could be furthered.
Those who are against this tradition suggest that surgical circumcision could be the better option to avoid fatalities. But, I think the point they are missing is that there is a reason why this tradition was initiated in the first place. Many people fall in the trap of assuming that this tradition is about removing the foreskin – which is an incorrect understanding. Yes in this tradition, a foreskin is removed but there are many things that happen “in the bush”. During the initiation period, initiates are provided with a platform that equips them with information on how to behave in society now that they’ve become men.
It’s their democratic right to suggest this, but the truth remains that this tradition is still relevant and it can be used to curb social ills, which the youths of this country are faced with. This tradition can contribute in eradicating rape, disrespecting individuals and so forth. The sad reality is that most boys these days grow up without their fathers. It really makes sense now if they undergo this tradition, as it will give them a chance to get elders who will show them the right way.
The other thing, which threatens this tradition is the problem of employment. The high rate of unemployment has paved the way for the mushrooming of bogus initiation schools. Most of these phony initiation schools are the major cause of these fatalities. Circumcising a person needs a special skill, not just anyone can do it. This just discredits the proper schools because fake initiation schools lack that special skill.
The problem that one has identified is that this tradition has been commercialised. If our culture custodians can work closely with law-enforcers, a lot can be achieved and more especially our beloved tradition can be saved.
By and large, people should be able to diagnose the problem correctly and establish it correctly so that the remedy can be corrected.
Sandile Gumede is a Freelance Journalist and a Journalism student at Durban University of Technology. He writes in his personal capacity.
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