In essence, the Customary Initiation Bill is not about circumcision, but about initiation; to mould and develop a very young person to become a refined, responsible citizen.
This was the central focus when the Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs held public hearings on the Customary Initiation Bill. The Committee had conducted hearings across the country but still needed to hear the view from the Western Cape. Many of the attendees were ordinary people and traditional leaders who were representing the communities of the Khoisan, Amatolo, AbaThembu, AmaXesibe, AmaTshawe, and AmaMpondo in the Western Cape. Officials from the Western Cape government were also present.
In general, participants welcomed the Bill but voiced concern about certain provisions and made proposals on how the bill can be improved. Several participants were against any proposals for initiation to be conducted in hospitals. They pointed that clause 28 (6) (d) was trying to introduce medical male circumcision through the back door. Culturally, they reasoned it was not acceptable to let the traditional surgeon work under or with a medical doctor because that would be disrespecting the traditional surgeon. They do not want someone who was going to have a hawk’s eye on what the traditional surgeon is doing. They maintained that you don’t go to school to become a traditional surgeon. That is something bestowed upon you by your ancestors.
The shortage of land was another problem voiced out. The main challenge was that the Western Cape only had a few initiation sites. Sometimes it happens that a white man chases the initiates out of his land. At other times people build shacks on the land meant for initiation. They pointed out that if the Bill came with the government, then the government must make sure land was available. They noted the Western Cape was very slow in terms of development, especially when it comes to land matters. This was a huge problem because there was always a red tape when people have to do their traditional ceremonies. People who were land-owners are the very same people from the colonial era.
Some participants agreed with the provisions of chapter 3 that amakhankatha (care-givers) should be above 40 years because they were the ones who were causing problems and came to work drunk. They said it should be enforced that care-givers be older married man because they would be guiding the initiates about life and manhood. Initiation is about schooling the individuals. Though the boys would go to the initiation at a very young age, you would notice that when they come back some become gangsters.
The involvement of police was welcomed to arrest law-breakers and ill-disciplined care-givers. They said the Bill should ensure that women police are not involved when police have to go the mountain or enter the initiation site. It was important that role players should work together to make sure things are changed because there was no custom that does not change. The general feeling was that if we love this custom, it is better to protect it instead of letting it die.
They remarked the Bill was putting emphasis on the structures in place like the Provincial Initiation Coordinating Committees while civil society was excluded. They indicated the powers of the principal were not mentioned and that needed to be revised. They observed that clause 21 (3) does not clearly state how the care-givers would be capacitated, and there was no provision for the period of the initiation and programmes that would be conducted during and post-initiation.
The Chairperson informed the public that this was not the end of the public hearings and they had the right to make submissions in their own languages if they did not get the chance to comment during the hearing. They were crafting a policy for the whole nation and this makes provisions for those who take girls for initiation as well. The Bill should be completed before the end of the year.
The Chairperson stated that the public and the Committee were now paying attention to the beloved initiation custom and the manner in which it should be conducted. The Committee had visited the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo and Northern Cape to conduct hearings on the bill. People had spoken about the appropriate way of conducting this custom and welcomed efforts to avoid deaths during initiation.
Participants had cited many reasons why deaths were happening during this period and condemned the government for taking too long to respond to the problem. They indicated that the state must arrest people who were causing problems because there was no culture that allowed people to be harmed. It was the duty of the government to save lives and there was no culture that was not going to allow the government not to intervene. There was no culture that was above the constitution of the country.
The Chairperson indicated that the chiefs agreed to the Bill as it would help the initiates come back healthy and alive from the mountains. It was difficult for the Committee to prescribe on the required age. Not many deaths were heard of in the Western Cape. That could mean it does initiation better than other provinces and was far ahead. The Bill was being drafted for all South Africans, especially those practising the custom to ensure it saves lives and remains protected. He asked the communities that were in the hearings to state what the problems were. The Bill should be completed before the end of the year. The views that were outstanding were those of the Western Cape.
Input by Committee Staff
Mr Andile Sokomane, Committee Assistant, took the public through the Bill, chapter by chapter. He focused on the main provisions of the Bill in isiXhosa because many of the attendees were ordinary people and traditional leaders who were representing the communities of Amatolo, AbaThembu, AmaXesibe, AmaTshawe, and AmaMpondo in the Western Cape.
Chapter 2 deals with the proposed initiation oversight and coordinating structures at both national and provincial level. Part 1 of Chapter 2 (clauses 4 to 10) makes provision for a National Initiation Oversight Committee (NIOC).
Chapter 3 of the Bill deals with the responsibilities, roles and functions of various role-players: (a) Clause determines that government (national, provincial and local) may enter into partnerships with each other, with principals of initiation schools and with traditional structures in respect of initiation practices in general and initiation schools in particular. Furthermore, to ensure uniformity, the Minister may determine the fees to be paid by initiates for attending an initiation school and by principals for the registration of an initiation school. Fees relating to traditional surgeons are dealt with under clause 41.
Chapter 4 focuses on initiation schools: (a) Clause 26 deals with the registration of initiation schools. All initiation schools must meet the criteria for registration as determined by a PICC. This will enable each PICC to develop criteria based on the unique circumstances in each province. The registration of an initiation school shall be valid only for one initiation season. A PICC must give notice in the relevant Provincial Gazette of all registered and deregistered initiation schools. If an initiation school is to be held on privately or certain state-owned land, the principal of the school must obtain the approval of the relevant land owner.
Chapter 5 contains provisions of a general nature: (a) As mentioned earlier, the envisaged NIOC may include two persons designated by the Minister. It is possible that these persons will not be government officials, public office bearers or members of an institution referred to in Chapter 9 of the Constitution. It may therefore be necessary to provide some kind of remuneration for such persons. Clause 32 of the Bill therefore determines that the Minister may, after consultation with the Minister of Finance, determine allowances to be paid to such members of the NIOC.
Chief Eric Galada, CULDTRACM Organisation (Cultural Leaders and Diverse Traditional Community Movement) stated that his organisation had challenges with a provision in chapter 1, which stated that the Health Department wants initiation to be conducted in hospitals. Second, he stated there were few sites for initiation and that was proving to be a challenge because initiation was something that must be hidden from the public. He further agreed with the provisions of chapter 3 that amakhankatha (care-givers) should be above 40 years because they were the ones who were causing problems and came to work drunk. Lastly, he added that traditional surgeons in the Western Cape have not been monitored, registered and provided with consent forms just like in the Eastern Cape.
Ms Nomzi Songelwa, AmaTolo Community of Khayelitsha, welcomed the Bill. She indicated that her main concern was about under-age children who die during initiation because they were being coerced by other under-age people who really did not understand what the custom was all about. There were certain things that those who were to undergo initiation had to know before they embark on the journey: there are certain types of foods they are not allowed to eat, they are prepared about what initiation was all about, and they are not allowed to see girls during the initiation period. Though they would go to the initiation at a very young age, you would notice that when they come back, they have gay and gangster tendencies. We cannot change the way they were born, but we want to see a well-groomed young man when they come from the mountain. There should be an adult involvement in their lives when they are in the mountain or forest.
Chief Dalubuhle Mnqanqeni, AbaThembu Community of Khayelitsha, thanked the Committee for trying to support them in their efforts as parents. It was good to see the involvement of the police in order to fight the misbehaviour of care-givers. The interventions from parents were important to avoid seeing a boy going to the initiation without the consent of the parents, especially a boy who is under the required 18 years. Seeing a doctor 3 months before going to the initiation would help us a lot to know what medication to bring to the initiate when he is on the mountain. The Initiation Commission should start getting active to help destitute families to get registered for the government grant. This matter was raised before with the government, but they do not know whether the government has considered it.
Chief Daluxolo Mthotywa, AmaTolo Community of Khayelitsha, indicated that Black people in the Western Cape were of different nations because some go to the mountains for initiation while others go to the bushes or forest. Land for initiation was scarce in the province and most of the private land belonged to the white people. His community has been asking that land be set aside for initiation where it would be possible to plant herbs and vegetables. Most of the initiation sites do not have water, with the exception of Langa community. He also asked that they be provided with vehicles by the government to do monitoring. He pointed out that girls do undergo initiation and that the government must understand that as traditional leaders they were the custodians of the custom even if they were not recognised as chiefs in the Western Cape. The Bill should do away with the issue of payments that should be made for initiation related matters. He requested that the Bill should make provisions for paying the care-givers because when you are over 35 you would never get work. The Bill should ensure that women police are not involved when police have to go the mountain or enter the initiation site. He suggested it would be very much appreciated if the initiation sites could have telephone containers for calling medical doctors during emergencies, and that care-givers and traditional surgeons should be issued with certificates because it was clear now that they needed to be certified unlike in the past.
Mr Charlton Rhayi, Emfuleni Community Representative, indicated that at Emfuleni there is a Committee of 7 called Khula Mkhwetha which looks at initiation related matters. He hoped the government would help them to make the Bill a success because the custom was giving them the dignity and that is why it should be respected. There are no short cuts. They agreed with the idea that the boy should see the doctor first before going to the initiation and he must be 18 years and above. He asked that changes be introduced with regard to the accommodation of the initiates because it was not acceptable for a person to live in a “house” made from bushes covered with plastics. The custom needs to change. It would be good to have a big house made from bricks with rooms to accommodate the initiates. When they have completed their course, all their belongings would be taken with them. The shortage of land was another problem. Fortunately, Emfuleni got allocated a piece of land in Driftsands. They would like that piece of land to be fenced and have a security guard to inspect all the things that would be brought to the initiates. He further suggested there should be a big container in the initiation site for cooking the food. He reasoned it was old fashioned to have food cooked at the homes of the initiates. Urban living dynamics should be considered. Families must just pay so that no initiates suffer from hunger. He gave an example of two initiates they found hungry because their stepmother was into glitz and glamour and did not bother about them. It should be enforced that care-givers be older married man because they would be guiding the initiates about life and manhood. Initiation is about schooling the individuals. Young men should not be allowed to be care-givers. It must be remembered that initiation is about building the nation. A good behavior is expected from the initiates when they come back. Being a man means responsibility. It means accountability. It is not about the sign of an operation. What was unacceptable now was to see young men from the mountain listening to no parents, elders and teachers. Mothers have been vocal about the bad behavior of the young men when they return to their homes. It is important to ensure the young men are refined when they come back from the initiation. It was important that role players should work together to make sure things are changed because there was no custom that does not change. If we love this custom, it is better to protect it instead of letting it die.
Chief Lungelo Nokwaza indicated the Bill should take note that provinces were not the same and the dynamics were different. The Bill was talking about principals at initiations sites. The Western Cape has got initiation forums which look at the selection of care-givers and traditional surgeons for families, if the forum has been asked for its opinion. He proposed that people who were going to serve in the NIOC (National Initiation Oversight Committee) should be 40 years+ instead of over 18 because that would contradict the age requirement of 40 year+ stipulated for care-givers in the Bill. Even at national level the same 40+ rule should be applied. He also indicated that circumstances should be taken into consideration when looking at the government structures stated on page 10 and 11 of the Bill. Uniformity at both provincial and national level was not going to be meaningful in the Western Cape because the province had no representation in the national committee and the representatives in the national house were not going to understand the Cape Town dynamics. The provincial committee should have a representation in the national committee. Clause 27(4) should not be tied up to secondary education, but should consider age. Clause 28 (6) (d) was trying to introduce medical male circumcision through the back door. Culturally, it is not allowed to let the traditional surgeon to work under or with the medical doctors because that would be disrespecting the traditional surgeon. You don’t go to school to become a traditional surgeon. That is something bestowed upon you by your ancestors. Regarding the curriculum for the initiation, he said the crux of initiation is whether you were initiated the traditional way or you went to the hospital. It must be understood that different families have got their own curriculums. There are things on good citizenship that could be taught to everyone: respect for the elders, women and girls, etc, but other things should be left to each family or nation.
The Chairperson informed the public that this was not the end of the public hearings and they had the right to make submissions in their own languages if they did not get the chance to comment during the hearing. They were crafting a policy for the whole nation and this makes provisions for those who take girls for initiation as well. Those were the things that have been considered. The custom was changing because 200 years ago the bride price was in a form of cattle, but now it is in monetary form. Now people slaughter white chickens to communicate with ancestors, something which never happened in the olden days.
Chief Mbombi Mazinyo, AmaTshawe Community of Khayelitsha, stated that most people who have spoken welcomed the Bill. The number of initiates returning alive from the initiation was higher in Cape Town than the Eastern Cape which is mostly rural, unlike Cape Town. The Bill should be crafted in such a way that no individual is going to do as he or she pleases. As chiefs of the Western Cape, they would engage amongst themselves about other things they were not happy with, but the Bill would not be discarded. Today, people use electricity for their homes, but this does not mean customs should be thrown out of the window. In the rural areas, the burning of the hut of the initiate when he has done his time has a significant meaning. In Cape Town there are different groups of Black people – AmaXhosa, AmaHlubi, AbeSuthu, etc - who all practice this custom but differently. But what was important was that the Western Cape Cultural Affairs Department should continue to do what it was doing right and not be discouraged by this Bill. He added that they would like to have a few hectares of the land set aside along the river for initiation so that they could be able to plant the required herbs.
A member of the Khoisan group stated they do not go to the bush or mountain like the Black people. She said they were the people of the rivers. She suggested that if the chief said there was a shortage of land yet the Bill came with the government, then the government must make sure land was available. People who were making proposals were traditional leaders, but the Khoisan were indigenous people and there was a difference between the two. There was a need to get together on how to implement the things they needed to do together. She said they understand how the Ngunis do their things, but they do not understand how Khoisans do their things. It was not acceptable for our government to impose on people how they should conduct their business. Their initiation was performed in a kraal near the river. The way they do things should be respected. They do not want someone who was going to have a hawk’s eye on what they do, in the case of a medical doctor looking at what the traditional surgeon is doing. She suggested that the Khoisan culture should be considered in the Bill so that we have a comprehensive Bill.
Mr Sikelela Zokufa, a Western Cape traditional surgeon, said he works closely with the chiefs of the Western Cape. He was thankful that the Bill was recognising the work of traditional surgeons and care-givers. The main challenge was that the Western Cape only had a few initiation sites. Sometimes it happens that a white man chases the initiates out of his land. At other times people build shacks on the land meant for initiation. He further indicated that the matter of registered initiation schools and initiation forums should be speeded up in the Western Cape because there were very few reported initiation deaths in the province. What he would like the Bill to take note of was the registration of initiation schools before the initiation season. The way it was stated in the Bill should be rephrased because there were two seasons for initiation. The Bill should also indicate how the registration of the traditional surgeons would be done because there were many factors that affect traditional surgeons when doing their work. Many times on their way to do their work, the traditional surgeons were stopped by metro police who confiscated their tools. And the work to be done gets delayed.
Chief Galada welcomed the Bill, stating it would indicate a way forward for them in the Western Cape because many of the things mentioned by people already were things they were concerned about as traditional leaders in the province. These matters included doing away with young care-givers, unacceptable behavior from the young men from the initiation, and ill-disciplined care-givers.
Ms Mary Jansen, representative of the Cochequa Khoisan Community, stated the Khoisan community came a long way and they were organised into 5 groups. For the past 18 years, the Khoisan community has been trying to bring the Bill to the table, something which they started during the Mandela era. She said as Africans we borrow from each other. Our history has been distorted. Our history has got different languages and cultures which should be respected. She would like to see her language as one of the official languages. She stated the Bill was going to restore the dignity of their culture and the decaying moral fibre in their communities. The Bill would also start addressing the generational trauma because people were coming out of colonialism. The Khoisans have been practicing initiation for a very long time. Some underwent circumcision for medical reasons. She pointed out that chapter 3 of the Bill excluded churches and that most communities believe in Christian religion. She proposed that church representatives and women should be members of the initiation committees because 60% of women were carriers of their culture. She also indicated that traditional surgeons should not be left out of the initiation committees. She noted the Western Cape was very slow in terms of development, especially when it comes to land matters. This was a huge problem because there was always red tape when people have to do their traditional ceremonies. People who were land-owners are the very same people from the colonial era. She agreed with the proposals brought forward.
Mr Mekeni Charles, representative of the Emfuleni Community, indicated the main challenge was when they visit homes trying to speak with the parents. He said they spoke with the principal of the initiation school at Emfuleni, but he said he would only listen to them when they come with the Bill.
Chief Toto Nongwe, AmaXesibe Community of Crossroads and Delft, said they have been talking with the government for a long time, asking for forests to be fenced so that they could also be used for initiation because the forests were getting smaller and smaller. For instance, there was a forest which disappeared and became Marikana. Chiefs in the Western Cape have decided to be volunteers because they respect and love the custom and there were very few deaths compared with the bad things happening in other provinces where chiefs were getting paid monthly. He suggested the volunteers should be given stipends so that they could continue their monitoring work.
Chief Mazondwa, Council of the Nguni People, indicated the Bill should also consider the support that most single mothers face when they have to send their sons to the initiation. That was why it was important that the Bill should note that not everyone should be a care-giver because some people get given this work to keep them busy though they come straight from jail. That explains why the young men come back from initiation as members of 28 gangs. Another problem was that the metro police confiscate the tools of the traditional surgeons when they go to do their work and that makes them not to do their work in time. He also asked the government not to approach ward councilors when it wants to speak with the people because ward councilors work for the ANC and DA. The work should be left to the traditional leaders. It was not a good idea to have built structures for initiation because it was not going to work. People come from different clan names and do things differently. When it comes to initiation, no one wants to use a place that has been used by another person. The “house” of the initiate has to be burnt down to destroy all the things the initiate bought when he got into his “house”. The burning of ibhoma (“house of the initiate”) has a very significant meaning. He supported the idea of fencing the forests so that no one can just enter it willy-nilly and to ensure water was available.
A man who identified himself as Tshawe remarked that it was not acceptable for the public to be given such important documents on the morning of the meeting because the hearing was about how to make a man, and to make a man was a process. He did not like over-regulation because it appeared the government was trying to interfere in everything. The initiation custom was family-oriented by nature. It does not involve mass production. The boy informs the mother who then tells the father that the boy wants to go to the mountain. When a boy has to be initiated, the family convenes and discusses who would be the traditional surgeon, care-giver, cook, the date for the initiation and ceremony, etc. This custom has an element of spirituality. Before you go to initiation, there is an elder who walks with you in the mountain to inform of you of what is going to happen to your life when you are at the mountain or forest. When you are sent to the initiation, they are working on your mentality. There must be positive signs you had undergone initiation. There are levels that you go through before you become a man: first, you become ikrwala (a returning initiate); second, you become umfana (young man); and then a man. Manhood carries a lot of responsibility because you must be a provider, protector, and be independent. He also noted that imigalelo or stokvels have brought a lot of pressure and contributed to the initiation problems. Parents are the ones that put pressure on children to undergo initiation because they want a return on their investments or be reciprocated to. On the behavior of the children, he maintained that children were the products of the society they were from. The traditional surgeon and care-giver are chosen by the family which forms part of the society.
The Chairperson asked Tshawe to make a written submission because the most important thing was not on circumcision, but on addressing the challenge around initiation in order to produce a man. That was the main idea behind the Bill.
Chief Koneli Mnqanqeni, AbaThembu Community of Khayelitsha, commented that the rate of death amongst the initiates has risen. They have died because there were receiving no advice from grown-up men. He said there was a province which he would not like to mention by its name that was making them uncomfortable when it comes to initiation. Children of the province that needs serious attention want to be initiated but they were not getting the kind of initiation they were looking for. He proposed that from the provinces where no deaths have been reported, representatives should be chosen to advise the provinces with more deaths. The ill-treatment during initiation was from the care-givers. It must be remembered that most households were being run by single mothers who, most of the time, know nothing about the customs of their families or what needs to be done, especially when the initiate is sick. It was important to find solutions to the challenges.
Mr Bomvana Ferdinand, Western Cape Health Department, commented they have studied the Bill, especially where it is indicated that the registration of the boy should be done 3 months before he goes to the initiation. This provision should be extended to include the submission of a certificate from the doctor by the care-giver to prove the boy has been seen by the doctor. The Bill should make provisions for the psychological support to the family of the initiate.
A member of the Delft community agreed with the idea of the Chairperson that more attention should be given to initiation than circumcision because in the initiation sites they were seeing unacceptable things. He commented that in some provinces the government provided cars for the monitoring of the initiation schools.
Mr Siyabulela Booi remarked that the Bill was putting emphasis on the structures in place like the Provincial Initiation Coordinating Committees while civil societies were excluded. The term ‘initiation school’ was very loose. It was as if you can just open an initiation school. It does not sound like a proper institution. He indicated the powers of the principal were not mentioned and that needed to be revised. He also indicated section 21 (3) does not clearly state how the care-givers would be capacitated, and there was no provision for the period of the initiation and programmes that would be conducted during and post that time. He stated that in other places young men were sent to the military schools to learn discipline. The government should offer programmes for post initiation through the Setas for skills development because the Bill was about developing an individual to be a responsible citizen.
Mr Clement Williams, Western Cape Cultural Affairs and Sport Department, informed the public that his Department had the mandate of protecting and developing cultural practices in the Western Cape. He called on people who felt their culture was not receiving a fair treatment to come forward to see what could be done. He admitted that initiation in the Western Cape was far advanced, but there was no law enforcement. Most fatalities happened during the first 8 days. The department has a guide that looks at the implementation of the programme to ensure we produce the kind of men we want. He urged the elders to come together and form cohesive communities and that was why the initiates come back from the mountains wanting to belong to the 28 gangs because the elders did not try to establish community cohesion. He said if the returning initiate was not working nor studying, it was important to approach the relevant department so that he could be put in the EPWP.
The Chairperson concluded that the large number of participants have expressed the view the Bill was needed and he assured the public that once it is finalised by Parliament and signed by the President of the country, it would then become a law. Those who want to make more submissions in their own languages were welcomed to do so in writing to the Committee. He pointed out there seemed to be commonality in the views. It was important to continue with the work that has been started. Committee members would have a discussion first and then members of the public would be invited to an information-sharing session. The Bill covers not only the male initiation, but the female one as well.
The meeting was adjourned.
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