School head asks for boys to give initiation a miss

Principal wants to use winter break for study to boost results

As relatives, friends and neighbours gather to support and celebrate the initiates, initiation also promotes a sense of community and beloning.
As relatives, friends and neighbours gather to support and celebrate the initiates, initiation also promotes a sense of community and beloning.
Image: Lulamile Feni

A principal who guided his rural school to achieve an 87.2% matric pass rate last year has banned grade 11 boy pupils from going to traditional initiation in favour of winter study lessons. 

Mzuvukile Gunuza, a principal at Ngobozana Senior Secondary School in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, gave the unusual directive in a letter sent to parents on Friday. However, this approach has not sat well with some people accusing the school of infringing on the children's right to practise their culture.  

In the letter Gunuza stressed that if the directive was not heeded, pupils should not bother to return to his school when the next term starts.

The school has 106 boys in grade 11. Schools will break up on Friday for the winter holidays until July 9.

Gunuza said in the letter that teachers had resolved to continue teaching the pupils from  June 17 until June 28.

The letter read: “Sicela kungabikho mntwana uvunyelwayo ukuba aye emabhomeni, ukuba umzali umvumele umntwana wakhe, sisi isikolo sicela angabuyeli apha esikolweni. [We request that all children should not go to the mountain. If there is a parent who allows their child to go ahead, as the school we request that the child does not return to this school.]” 

Gunuza told Sowetan that together with his management team and the school governing body (SGB), they decided to convene the extra classes as the school aims to achieve a 100% matric pass rate in future.  

“We are just emphasising the importance of education. The aim of the winter classes is to maintain and boost the performance of all grades. We have three grades that will not be closing school. It is grade 9, 11 and 12. In grade 9 we have 186 pupils, 219 in Grade 11 and 148 in Grade 12.”

The letter that Mzuvukile Gunuza, the principal at Ngobozana Senior Secondary School in Lusikisiki, sent to parents.
The letter that Mzuvukile Gunuza, the principal at Ngobozana Senior Secondary School in Lusikisiki, sent to parents.

Gunuza joined the school last year and achieved 87.2% after sluggish results of 65.6% in 2022 and 63.5% the previous year. 

It is not clear how many boys from the school had prepared to undergo initiation this winter.

The National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) has condemned Gunuza’s plan, saying it was flawed. 

NASGB Eastern Cape chairperson Mongameli Peter said: “What this principal is implying by his actions is that ulwaluko [initiation] is the reason pupils fail at the end of the year. Can he produce proof of that claim? There is no causal nexus between the two. His argument is flawed.” 

Peter accused the school management team of infringing on the rights and needs of the pupils.  

“While he may be driven by a desire to boost the school’s pass rate, he is in that process neglecting other important activities that are key in the development of a young brain like a recess period. Research has shown that the brain needs to take a break from work and studies to prevent burnout. Secondly, ulwaluko is an important stage in a boy’s life. What is he saying about that rite of passage to manhood?”  

Peter said that extra classes should not be compulsory and warned that the school team was also depriving children of the basic need for leisure time.  

“We condemn this dictatorial approach of the principal and his management team,” said Peter.  

Chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, nkosi Mpumalanga Gwadiso, also slammed Gunuza and the school.

“While he may have received the backing of the SGB to convene these extra classes, he has no right to threaten parents with expelling the children for undergoing the sacred rite of passage to manhood. These children are not breaking the law by practising their culture. Secondly, he must not think that this is his school. He is just a manager employed to run the facility. He must withdraw the remarks,” Gwadiso said.  

Gwadiso however stressed that initiation was not a compulsory activity consisting of strict deadlines, saying that families can delay it to suit their pockets or design their own itinerary according to the schedule of the school-going child.

“If parents agree with the school on this, then there is no problem,” he said.  

Petros Majola, director of Khula Community Development Project, an association advocating for the rights of children, said while he understood the school intentions  to improve, the management team ought to consider and respect everyone’s views and observe cultural practices. 

Majola said the management was imposing its own “draconian laws” that are not in line with the country’s. “You must also take into consideration that this exercise may not yield the intended results but instead the teachers could find themselves teaching exhausted children,” he said. 

He said he would contact the district director of the Department of Education to address the matter. 

Provincial department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said the department can never stand in the way of children wanting to go to the mountain. 

Mtima said that some school management teams, with the support of SGBs, do exercise their own discretion to teach over holidays to help struggling children.  

“What must be applauded is the teachers who voluntarily opt to teach the children without compensation during their own free time. These teachers want to safeguard the future of the children and deserve compliments,” Mtima said. 

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