Covid-19 has affected every sphere of life – and initiation practices are no exception. Kgoshi Malesela Dikgale, chairperson of the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders, has suspended the initiation period for this year, amid fears of Covid-19.
“Although it’s our culture to host traditional initiation schools each year, within our villages, this year we cannot afford to do that due to the fears of spreading coronavirus. We know that during this time we usually have close contact between ourselves and initiates — which might make it easier for the virus to spread,” says Dikgale.
‘We won’t have enough time’
Basikopo Makamu, Limpopo Cooperative Governance Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs MEC, says that there aren’t enough days in the school holiday calendar for the smooth running of initiation schools.
“The days for school vacations this year will not be enough for us to operate traditional schools, hence, the suspension. We had received about 185 male initiation schools, which were going to amount for more than 50 000 initiates,” Makamu says.
According to Dikgale, four full weeks are needed for initiates to fully recover.
“Even if the Department of Health is able to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the coming weeks, we would still not have enough time to conduct the initiation schools. The school holidays will be short this year due to time students have already lost. It requires about four weeks for initiates to fully recover which is something we cannot have this year, hence we felt it was necessary to suspend the initiation schools for this year,” he says.
Dikgale says the “most difficult thing” has been that traditional leaders have not been able to meet as a collective to discuss the way forward, due to the national lockdown in place.
“It’s a norm that we meet, as traditional leaders, around this time to talk about initiation schools which normally start during the last week of May,” he says.
History of illegal schools
Over the recent years some traditional surgeons have been arrested for operating initiation schools illegally, and mothers in the Vhembe region have also voiced their concern about sending their sons to the bush. Dikgale says that no permit will be given by the department, and that those who take chances will be arrested. Last year, during the May/June initiation school period, three fatalities were recorded and over 50 schools shut down for operating illegally in Limpopo.
Dikgale cautions that harsh sentences will be taken against traditional surgeons and traditional health practitioners who defy the call.
“There will be serious consequences for those who take chances and decide to conduct initiation schools, despite the call of suspension. We cannot afford to put the lives of our children at risk. Just imagine if one initiate is affected with the virus, what will happen to the rest of them?”
Makamu says the department will engage with all affected parties to ensure the call is being followed. The question remains whether public health facilities will continue to offer medical male circumcision during this time. Attempts to get comment from the Limpopo Provincial Department of Health were unsuccessful. — Health-e News.