South Africa is a nation composed of many different tribes with their own different culture and beliefs. There are +/- eleven official languages and each practices its own culture and they want it to be unique from the culture of the other tribes. The customary law in South Africa gives everyone the right to practice and enjoys custom of his/her choice. South Africa is commonly known for initiation schools which take place every year during the June vacations. The circumcision schools are meant for young male. It is previously known as an institution to educate young male of their cultural values and conduct. This simply means that the purpose of initiation schools is to teach male at a tender age to become good leaders of the family and the good leaders of the community in their future life. The right to culture is also protected in terms of section 30 and 31 of the 1996 Constitution. This gives the cultural or customary right power in that the constitution does not allow any law which is inconsistent to it to be applied against it unless if the right in question can be limited in terms of the limitation clause in section 36 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
Initiation is practiced by several tribes in South Africa. This is an old cultural practice that still exists after the event of chapter of human rights in the Constitution. Initiation schools form part of the customary law. Initiation schools form part of our cultural practice in South Africa and are protected by the constitution. The schools are regarded as cultural educational institutions where initiates are taught about customary values and conduct. After the 1996 constitution came into force there have been complaints about some of initiation schools. The initiation schools have been important to most of South African tribes. In some cases, under aged children are taken to the schools without their parental consent while others are forced to go to the initiation school without their personal consent or agreement. Some traditional Surgeons who conduct the circumcision are not trained and this result to the initiates losing their genital organs. It has been alleged in more than one occasion that some leaders of the initiation school performs the process under the influence of alcohol. And also that they use objects which may cause the spreading of the blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other related diseases.
In order to address the above-mentioned problems some Provincial Legislations have introduced laws to protect and ensure the safety of the initiates. Limpopo Province is one of that Provincial Government who promulgated the laws in consideration of the problem faced by the initiates. The Northern Province Circumcision School Act (the Act) was established in order to reduce risk taken by traditional surgeons and initiates. The established laws deal with several problems concerning or faced with traditional initiation schools. The regulation governs the granting of permission for operation of circumcision school, the granting of permission to conduct circumcision and the observation of health standards in initiation schools. Estimation is made every year mentioning not the exact number of initiates who dies in the initiation schools. The assumed number of initiates who died since 2001 till 2005 was said to be 215. Beside those who lost their lives, 118 lose lost their men’s hood as a result of negligent circumcision performed by traditional surgeons who lacks proper knowledge to perform circumcision. It has become a common cause that every year the country lost its young generation at initiation schools. The pity is that many of initiates are forced by their parents to attend the initiation. It has been established that the schools are no longer loyal to the original motivations of our forebears. In our generation (21stCentury), some of initiation schools are opened purely for economic reasons. This can be proved in that initiates are required to pay a certain amount for them to graduate or a cow if the initiate was to be released before the completion of the initiation. It is clear that there is abuse of power by some traditional surgeons who are inadequately trained to perform the traditional circumcision.
In order to support the enactment of the promulgated regulation, national conferences and workshops were organized in South Africa to try and address the problem of illegal initiation schools and the dying of people, particularly children in initiation schools. One of the conference which had the most positive outcomes was the May 2004 traditional Initiation Schools Conference. This conference went hand in hand with the South African Human Rights Commission workshop on Initiation Schools. Several problems where addressed and recommendations were made to the problem in question. One of the recommendations made was that reference must be made to the constitution and human rights, particularly the Bill of Rights, the training of practitioners (traditional surgeon) to observe health requirements during and after circumcision, code of conduct relating to the abuse of alcohol and drugs at the initiation schools, the scourge of HIV/AIDS as well as the importance of the initiation schools.
1.3 Wheredoes an initiation school come from?
Initiation schools are said to have been passed from one generation to another. It is not easy to point the exact culture or tribe which started with practice of initiation schools. Where it originates is not known with certainty. It has been also proposed by various people that it began as a religious sacrifice, as boy’s entrance to adulthood, as promote to hygiene where regular bathing was impractical, as a demonstration of one’s ability to endure pain and so forth. Male circumcision and initiation schools have an old tradition behind them and in its present form is the result of a long process of development. South African cultural history is conveniently described in terms of language group. More than eleven languages are spoken in South African and this determines different cultures amongst the citizens of South Africa. Initiation was practice in the 18 century only by Jews and Turks as a painful and often a dangerous rite.
1.4 Who performs Initiation on initiates?
Traditional surgeons, especially traditional healers, commonly have known as Sangomaperforms the circumcision. Circumcision at initiation schools is the most dangerous operation performed on a penis without any drug taken to reduce the pain or to prevent too much losing of blood. From a personal experience, circumcision at initiation schools is mostly performed by old men with the assistance of those who have already graduated some year ago. Raiser blades are used to operate and it needs a careful and full concentration of the one who is operating. Experience and mental capacity of a traditional surgeon counts during circumcision as the operation is the life threatening one. Circumcision cannot be conducted or performed under the influence of alcohol by an insane person. Circumcision is a risky task which needs commitment and one shall know the procedures. However, young people tend to forget the importance of circumcision and initiation and they perform this dangerous operation without experience and necessary training which is required by, for example the promulgated regulations by Provincial Government. To conclude this I can say initiations perfectly are performed by those at least a degree higher than the initiates.
1.5 The purpose of Initiation Schools
Ritual circumcision is practiced by many cultures in South Africa and is one of the most resilient of all traditional South African practice with the rural areas. The purpose can differ according to the culture. Customary law recognizes initiation schools as cultural educational institutions where initiates are taught about customary values and conduct. In the culture of VHA-VENDA, initiations schools are set to educate young initiates to be good and responsible leader to their families and the community. Spending four weeks at initiation school is regarded difficult task which needs a dedicated man who wants to become the future of the community.
All in all I can say initiation schools have been adapted some decades ago with different purpose and meaning to a particular culture. As the standard of living has now changed in such a way that everyone is afforded certain rights, the principles used to govern initiation schools previously should now comply with the law governing the Republic (the Republic of South Africa) which is the 1996 constitution and including Acts of the Parliament as the law-making body in our country. Hopefully the power of the Traditional leaders over initiation schools should be considered as they are the ones who have the high power over the land and have the authority to grant or deny anyone the right to conduct an activity on the land which the have control over.
Traditional male circumcision is still widely practiced in the different cultural population throughout South Africa. It is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood as defined by other tribes or cultures. Unfortunately, botched circumcisions are a public health threat and lead to terrible damages, injuries and deaths. Hospital admissions, amputations and deaths per circumcision season are rising in big number every year. Illegal initiation schools still operate and still causing more harm. The Northern Province Circumcision School Act 6 of 1996 and the Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act of 2001 has not been successful in reducing the health risks of the ritual. Unqualified surgeons, negligent nurses, irresponsible parents and youths medically unfit for the needs of initiation continue to contribute to disastrous outcomes. One of the main problems is the perception that government interference in the ritual is adverse, and the fact that a disgrace is attached to non-end of the practice. The problem of death and injuries mostly affect children (below the age of majority). Parental consent is ignored when a child decides to go for initiation and still, traditional surgeons accept the child and circumcise him without knowing his identity. These horrific incidents that often occur in some of traditional initiation rites (schools) have caused South African population and the government to call and propose measures which impose for stronger control over initiation schools (rite).
2.2 Hospital admission and death
Every year there is a number of initiates admitted at different hospitals all over South Africa. In some instance death is also reported. All these came as a result of negligence of traditional surgeons at some initiation schools in South Africa particularly in Limpopo province. The statistic can confirm that at least ten died at some initiation schools during last year’s circumcision season. Apart from deaths, some initiates suffer the loss of reproductive organs and yet others suffer from preventable infections which result and the later result to deaths. The government must seek the solution for this problem in the fact that it somehow supports the practice of initiation schools in terms of section 30 and 31 of the 1996 constitution. However, this cannot be the cause of all these problems as the government by including the above-mentioned was trying to address all issues and to protect the practice of everyone in the Republic. The constitutional right to exercise one’s culture and traditions cannot blame to the government as the primary cause of the problems in initiation schools. It was reported on the 28th June 2010 that the deaths toll in the Eastern Cape has risen 39. This information was given out to the media by the provincial health department.
2.3 Statistics in Limpopo Province
The most painful thing is the number of initiates, most importantly children, who die and some suffer serious and permanent injuries. The Limpopo Provincial Government has a recorded statistic in relation to initiation schools in the province since 2006. I will like to share some of the statistic with the public. The following is the statistics of the initiation schools in the Limpopo Province given out by the office of the premier. Statistics below is from 2006 to 2007.In 2006, 327 schools were registered. Forty-three were declared illegal, 40 314 initiates were initiated. Twelve deaths were reported in 2006. In 2007 the house of traditional leaders registered a total of 243 schools. 32 300 were initiated. Seven illegal schools were reported. Five death cases were reported.
a) Summary of statistics of circumcision schools for the period 2006/07.