Available at GCIS provincial offices, GCIS district offices & Thusong centres in your area!

Curbing initiation deaths

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

Parents, communities and traditional authorities need to play a stronger educational role if circumcision-related deaths are to be curbed.

With winter being the start of circumcision East London-based traditional surgeon Andile Siko (39), who has been circumcising boys for the past 20 years believes that parents have a big role to play in the process of initiation.

Siko said parents should educate boys, from an early age, about why they should only be initiated after they turn 18. This, he said, will ensure that young boys do not put their lives in danger by getting circumcised when they are younger, at illegal circumcision schools, without parental consent.

Illegal circumcision schools put young boys’ lives at risk, as these schools do not have the necessary skills, tools or approval to conduct circumcisions.

“I think the process of circumcision is mostly mental. A male must be trained when he is still a child. He must be raised with the mindset that, as a man, he has to make mature and thoughtful decisions. This makes things easier when parents have to tell him that he must wait until he is 18,” Siko said.

He said that to curb the death of initiates, there also needs to be a formalisation of circumcision.

“In most cases, where initiates died, you find that the initiate was too young to have been circumcised in the first place. I heard somewhere that a seven-year-old child was circumcised and that is wrong,” Siko said.

He added that parents, especially fathers, need to explain to young boys what initiation is about. He said in these discussions it is ideal to explain that the process is not about looking good in their matching outfits as amakrwala (the stage where initiates have recently come back from the mountain).

“Parents must sit down with their children and explain what will physically be done to them. They must explain that the initiation process comes with responsibilities.”

Get parental consent

Joseph King (31), who went to an initiation school in Butterworth, said prospective initiates should discuss when and how they be will be initiated with their parents.

He felt ready to be circumcised when he was 17 and he spoke to his parents. He was told to wait until he turned 18. Waiting helped him to prepare.

“As a human being, a certain level of maturity comes when you reach a particular age. The initiation process is about maturing from a boy into a man. To be a man requires being able to know when to do things and how to do them, in the correct manner,” he said.

King explained that initiates need to undergo cultural processes and health tests before they are circumcised.

He added not using a reputable and registered surgeon or school could result in a botched procedure and warned parents about bogus and unregistered traditional surgeons.

“Registered initiation surgeons should have the relevant paperwork from the department that is responsible for the tradition. Also, the traditional nurse that will take care of initiates must have the requisite paperwork stating that he is fit for the job,” King said.

Registered traditional surgeons

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) in the Eastern Cape, which is responsible for overseeing the tradition, said that traditional surgeons are registered with and trained by the Department of Health.

Cogta provincial spokesperson Mamnkeli Ngam said the department is working to raise awareness about the importance of doing things the right way and is working with several organisations to curb deaths.

"We have established the District Initiation Forum and local initiation committees. We are also in partnership with the Vusizwe Foundation, Ikamva Lesizwe Foundation and Family Society Foundation to combat the death of initiates and close down illegal circumcision schools in the province. Working with the Ikamva Lesizwe Foundation, we recently opened a rescue centre in Libode," he said.

The centre takes in initiates that Cogta and its partners rescues from illegal initiations.

Ngam also said that Cogta is working with the provincial department of health to continue training traditional surgeons and nurses in wound treatment.

Ngam added that once traditional surgeons and nurses have been trained they are awarded a certificate which proves that they are registered with the Department of Health and have been trained.

“It is important for parents to ask traditional surgeons and nurses for these certificates before enrolling their child to an initiation school,” said Ngam.

“The surgeons are trained in health standards. The surgeon must have gloves. They must sterilise their tools.”

Ngam added that those who know illegal initiation schools should report to the nearest police station, local authorities such as chiefs and councillors or the chair of the District Initiation Forum.   

You can report illegal initiation school by calling:
SAPS – 10111
Right to Care 011 276 8850.
Ikamva Lesizwe 083 498 9319
Email: anqeketo@ikamvainstitute.org