Eastern Cape traditional leaders want initiation season to open despite coronavirus surge in the province

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Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape have called for the initiation season to be opened despite the surge in coronavirus cases in the province.

It is the view of a number of local chiefs that initiation schools can resume with Covid-19 safety protocols being observed.

The schools in the Gcaleka region had halted all operations to mark the mourning period of  late King Zwelonke Sigcawu,  who passed away in November last year. 

However, Inkosi Zanempuxuko Sangqu said there was an indication in his region that the season was going to open immediately after the end of the mourning period which is on Sunday.

“It is suspended by government but people feel that the initiation period should continue and the boys should be monitored in recognition of Covid-19 regulations. We are meeting as Inkosi to decide on this,” he said.

Inkosi Dr Zanokhanyo Manduleli Bikitsha said the further suspension of ulwaluko will affect them a lot as the boy’s mind had already condition itself for going through manhood.

“These boys already had a connection with their ancestors and we are scared that they will end up going to illegal initiation schools, which poses a health risk in their lives. There are both spiritual and physical preparations done long before the boy goes to initiation school.  We don’t understand why is it that we can't send our children to initiation school, meanwhile taverns are opened where a number of people gather while in initiation it's only an initiate and the traditional nurse and they observe social distancing,” he said.

Inkosi Jongisilo Pokwana ka Menziwa, director at Vusizwe Foundation for Historical Research, said the postponement will have a direct impact on the boys as they are supposed to go to university.

“These boys will be treated as juniors as they should have gone to the initiation on the last day on their matric exams. They will face a problem in the allocation of rooms because a man cannot share a room with a boy and our school system has not perfected this,” he said.

He said this cultural practice is meant to transition a teenager from childhood to adulthood through a set of rituals conducted.

“In the initiation school they undergo physical and mental transformation which is meant to empower them. That is where we instill values and norms to them as to how they are supposed to conduct themselves as men,” he said.

Deputy minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Obed Bapela said in a statement in an unprecedented but necessary undertaking, that traditional initiation practices remain officially suspended in SA in a bid to mitigate against exposure and contraction of the Covid-19 virus.

“Since alert level 5 to alert level 1, the country remains in consensus and united that the need to save lives is sacrosanct. The process to suspend the initiation included broader consultations with various sectors across the country.  We continue urging our leaders and communities to observe the suspension of initiation. We all have to educate communities about the dangers of coronavirus,” he said.

Inkosi Xhanti,Sigcawu, uncle of the late King Zwelonke, asked that everyone remain patient to avoid putting lives at risk.

“We are encouraging parents to speak to their children to be patient. We can’t go against government and we don’t want to compromise their lives,” he said.

According to the provincial department of health, 941 new cases were recorded in the Bay as of Friday. The province currently has 9,811 active cases.

The surge has added pressure to the already ailing hospital services in the region. Nelson Mandela Bay public hospitals ran out of ICU beds earlier in November.

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