Initiates / Abakhwetha

Because of high demand from Xhosa speaking young boys wanting to be men. Boys in Mpondoland in the Eastern Cape, South Africa are going behind their parents’ backs to attend dodgy initiation schools that too often claim the lives of youths who would be men. Most of the reported deaths nearly 50 since June 2012 – have occurred in this region. Five initiates have had to have penile amputations and 300 have been hospitalised because of injuries related to circumcisions.The numbers are unprecedented, even for a province in which deaths related to ritual circumcision have been recurrent. The causes of death (many occur as a result of dehydration, exposure to cold or complications arising from botched circumcisions), especially in Mpondoland, are linked broadly to the history of initiation in the area. The tradition was abandoned by King Faku during the Mfecane period and has never been officially reinstated by the current Mpondo king, Zanozuko Sigcau.

There are simmering tensions between the department of health and traditional leaders because of the health department’s view that circumcisions have to be done by ingcebi (surgeon) trained by medical professionals.The stigma attached to those who had medical circumcisions could haunt them for the rest of the lives because the community and their peers frowned upon them and sometimes resorts to fights.

There has been a lot of debates surrounding the culture of initiation in the province, despite the deaths, the debates seem to reveal that Xhosa people, in general, are still fiercely proud of their cultural practices.

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