Traditional healers debate initiation school age

Written by Zizo Zikali

EASTERN CAPE – Whether young men are ready for initiation school at the age of 16, or if they should wait until they are 18 was the basis of heated discussions among traditional healers at the recent public hearings into the Customary Initiation Bill held at the Club House Hall in Flagstaff.

The Eastern Cape’s Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa stands firmly convinced that the permitted age for boys to undergo the initiation process should be 18, while traditional surgeons believe a 16-year-old should be allowed.

The Bill was introduced in parliament in April, with the aim to provide for the effective regulation of customary initiation practices and requires that initiation schools, traditional surgeons should be registered.

Nkosi Xolile Ndevu, leader of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, applauded parliament’s initiative to protect the lives of initiates.

“We applaud the government’s initiative aimed at restoring the integrity and legitimacy of the customary practice. However, as the Eastern Cape, we are consistent that initiates should undergo the initiation process when they reach the age of 18 years.  We believe that a person is ready to take calculate decisions when he reaches the age of 18. We cannot allow babies to undergo the initiation process.”


Ndevu also added that a lack of discipline in young boys is one of the contributing factors leading to initiates losing their lives, as some boys attend initiation schools without their parent’s consent. The Bill is supposed to assist in terms of ensuring that principals and caregivers do not allow this.

Traditional surgeon Lwando Miya said when the Bill is passed into law it will assist in terms of curbing some of the challenges they experience – especially the issue of the permitted age for boys to undergo the initiation process.

“As traditional surgeons, we welcome the Bill and it must be passed into law.  We have noticed that most boys who are 18 years of age are in matric. Therefore it becomes challenging for them to choose either to attend winter school classes to achieve good matric results or to attend the initiation school.  If they are allowed to undergo the initiation process at the age of 16 the process would not interfere with their studies as most 16-year-olds are in grade 10.”

Miya also added that as traditional surgeons working together with principals and caregivers they are challenged to ensure safety in initiation schools where they can sometimes be overpowered by young men who forcefully enter the huts with the purpose of ill-treating initiates.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Richard Mdakane, said the purpose of the Bill was to curb practices which had resulted in the deaths of initiates. 

An edited version of this story was published by The Mercury.

About the author

Zizo Zikali

Zizo Zikali is our Eastern Cape based citizen journalist who also heads news at Inkonjane Community Radio in Flagstaff. Under her leadership, the news team is receiving recognition from local government and is the defending champion for Alfred Nzo District Municipality Annual Award for Best Innovative Current Affairs Programme. Zizo has over six years experience in community media and worked for organisations such as Voice of Tembisa FM from 2011-2014 and Inkonjane community Radio since 2014. Her educational qualifications include an Advanced Radio Certificate from University of the Witwatersrand obtained in 2016 and a Human Resources Management qualification from the Durban University of Technology obtained in 2008.