Beatings , penile amputations, botched circumcisions and even deaths are some of the realities youths face in their quest to become men at Eastern Cape initiation schools.
However Mdantsane traditional nurse Lufe Maki has dedicated his life to making sure that none of this happens to boys under his care.
In the Eastern Cape last year a total of 24 initiates died during the winter initiation season and nine traditional surgeons and nurses were arrested. The initiates are reported to have died from dehydration, sepsis and assault. Despite the high number of deaths, this is down on the 2015 winter season when 29 initiates lost their lives.
Speaking to the Daily Dispatch from an initiation school near the SPCA in Amalinda, Maki said he had started looking after boys during their initiation in the late 90s.
“My younger brother had to go to the initiation school and there was no one available to look after him. I took it upon myself to look after him and make sure that he returned home safe and alive,” he said.
Maki said this is when his love for looking after initiates developed. “The death of initiates is preventable and unnecessary.
“This should be a time to teach these boys about what it really means to be a man and how to behave as a man. Beating them and giving them alcohol does not serve that purpose.
“I make sure they leave here with a clear understanding of what it means to be a man,” he said.
Since he started looking after boys at initiation schools almost 20 years ago, Maki has not recorded a single death.
“There is no secret in having a zero record of deaths. I just look after these boys with love and care. I would not live with my conscience knowing that a boy died, and parents lost their child, because of my irresponsible behaviour,” he said.
After looking after so many initiates over so many years, it could be easy to take shortcuts, but Maki says he is still extremely careful with each and every young man in his care.
Each season, Maki looks after about 50 boys. He stays at the initiation school from the day the boys arrive until they leave the bush.
“Even my family knows. When I leave home they will only see me when everything has been completed.
“If there is something that needs me, it will wait until I am done with what I am here for,” he said. Under his supervision no boy is allowed to drink alcohol or smoke.
“I am always here. I make sure that everything is in order. I do not allow anyone to drink or smoke.
“These boys are not here to get a licence to drink alcohol or smoke dagga, or a cigarette,” he said.
“Some boys go to initiation school not having touched alcohol before and when they get there they are given alcohol every day, so in their minds they think being a man is about drinking alcohol because they were given alcohol every day during their stay at the initiation school.”
As part of celebrating the safe return of boys, alcohol is often brought to initiation schools, but Maki emphasised: “I am not here to teach these boys to drink.”
On the day the Daily Dispatch visited Maki last week he was still with a few boys whose time to return home had not arrived.
“Some are leaving in the next few days while others will leave on Saturday,” he said.
Maki said whenever inspectors visited his initiation school they did not find anything wrong.
“I have heard stories that at some initiation schools, nurses run and hide the initiates when [they hear] inspectors are coming. I have nothing to hide. I do everything according to the book,” he said.
lThe national initiation toll-free number 08006611 can be used to report problems or abuse relating to the rite. — firstname.lastname@example.org