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Initiation schools in North West to remain closed due to COVID-19 fears

Initiation Schools Covid-19 Eastern Cape
Written by Nthusang Lefafa

Initiation practices in the province have been suspended for over a year since the country went into lockdown in March last year and will remain closed due to the threat of a third wave of COVID-19 infections.

Speaking to Health-e News, Chairperson of the Provincial Initiation Coordinating Commitee, Kgosi Thari Maotwe pleaded with traditional leaders and future initiates to be patient because the country is facing a pandemic.

“As traditional leaders we are deeply saddened that men and women cannot go through their right of passage but saving lives is more important at this time. It has been over a year that our initiation schools have been closed and many people in our communities feel that we are falling back on our cultural practices,” said Maotwe.

Maotwe said expressions of interest to open up initiation schools have been brought to the provincial initiation commitee but the advice is to keep them closed.

“There are growing calls across all four districts to open initiation schools as we head towards the winter initiation season. We urge our communities to be patient because there is always another opportunity to regain lost time,”said Maotwe.

Viability of opening initiation schools

Maotwe says the provincial initiation committee is currently busy with submitting documents to the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) to assess the viability of opening up initiation schools. He further added that traditional surgeons have being trained by the health department on how to abide by COVID-19 precautions in an initiation school environment.

CoGTA provincial spokesperson, Dineo Thapelo explained that under level one lockdown initiation schools can be opened provided the MEC has submitted a risk-adjusted plan to the minister.

“Level one regulations permit initiation schools to open up on condition the MEC for CoGTA submits a risk adjusted plan to the CoGTA minister. We have not received such a report from the provincial initiation committee as yet,” she said.

“Traditional leaders in the province have supported the closure of initiation schools and the provincial house has issued a statement as well. We do enjoy the support of our traditional leaders and there has not been any open defiance of COVID-19 restrictions by any  duly recognised Dikgosi,” said Thapelo.

Thapelo urged North West residents to refrain from opening bogus initiation schools during the lockdown.

“We call upon communities to guard against bogus initiation schools and resport such to the relevant authorities. The department would like to send a stern warning to perpetrators that they will face the full  might of the law,” she said.

Initiation schools closed since last year

When closing initiation schools last year, CoGTA Deputy Minister Obed Bapela urged everyone to remain vigilant and do more to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 and to protect initiates from exposure to this unrelenting “brutal” virus.

“Our resolve to continue with the suspension will go a long way to set South Africa on course to defeat COVID-19 which is still a major cause of deaths across the country as numbers have been rising at an alarming rate. To this end, it is deemed necessary to temporarily maintain the suspension of the initiation practices,” he said.

The Eastern Cape is the only province in the country with a specific law that regulates initiation schools, namely the Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Act of 2016.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is yet to pass the Customary Initiation Bill. Once enacted into law, the Customary Initiation Bill will make provision for the establishment of the national and provincial initiation oversight committees. Section 40(1) of the Bill says that a national initiation oversight committee should be established within 90 days of the law coming into effect.

CoGTA has told parliament that it is ready to implement this legislation. Section 20(2) of the Customary Initiation Bill makes it compulsory to conduct the screening of initiation school principals, traditional surgeons, care-givers and traditional health practitioners. It also regulates the minimum requirements for the registration of traditional surgeons, as well as the development of acceptable standards relating to discipline at initiation schools.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape cabinet has decided to lift the suspension of initiation practices from 1 June 2021. – Health-e News

About the author

Nthusang Lefafa