Gauteng Initiation: Cultural practices must be supported by government to ensure health and safety

By Kingsol Chabalala MPL DA Gauteng Spokesperson: Arts, Culture and Heritage:

The DA in Gauteng welcomes reports that the provincial government has shut down at least 17 illegal initiation schools and has rescued a number of kidnapped initiates who have received critical medical care.

However, more needs to be done to ensure the safety of initiates during this period going forward.

The DA recognises and respects this important cultural practice but it is necessary for government to form partnerships with traditional leaders and surgeons to ensure appropriate health and safety standards.

The National Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ (COGTA) draft policy in this respect is a welcome move. However, it is our view that the challenges associated with initiation require national legislation or regulations to be enacted to tackle it more effectively through the power of ‘hard law’ rather than ‘soft law’, like policy. This is because national law also enforces policy that has been adopted.

The fact is that the national department’s draft policy recognises that a number of fatalities and injuries around the country have been due to the abuse of initiates by people who are not equipped to perform circumcision. This has also clearly been the case when it comes to the illegal initiation schools that have been shut down in the province in the past few weeks.

We believe that without legislation being enacted, which creates an offence and a penalty for persons running an unregistered initiation school, it is difficult to hold these people and others involved, legally accountable for their actions.

Further, the DA-led Western Cape government has managed to reduce fatality rates by securing key partnerships which aim to balance cultural heritage with the medical realities of this practice.

These include providing first-aid kits and training to traditional healers and surgeons, ensuring affected districts have the service of an on-call doctor for circumcision camps, and encouraging local authorities to provide clean running water at designated areas.

The Western Cape Department of Health also plays a role in securing HIV testing and the provision of surgical packs, amongst other medical counselling initiatives.

Key to this, is building strong relationships between traditional authorities and relevant government departments. This important cultural practice can be done safely without undue risk to the initiates if government provides the correct support where appropriate.

The DA in Gauteng will be proposing that provincial authorities adopt these same strategies to ensure the safety of all youth partaking in this rite of passage.

Our initiates deserve to come through this and face a future bright with opportunities without fearing death or debilitating injury.