Tribal chiefs reject draft bill on circumcision rite

POINT OF ORDER: Chief Nozamile Matwasa of Zalu administrative area in Lusikisiki speaks at the public hearings on the Customary Male Initiation Practice Bill in Lusikisiki this week. She says while women have a big role to play in the rite, it has always been a men’s custom Picture: LULAMILE FENI
POINT OF ORDER: Chief Nozamile Matwasa of Zalu administrative area in Lusikisiki speaks at the public hearings on the Customary Male Initiation Practice Bill in Lusikisiki this week. She says while women have a big role to play in the rite, it has always been a men’s custom Picture: LULAMILE FENI
Traditional leaders have rejected a clause in a bill on circumcision that would have enabled women to visit their sons, who were undergoing the rite of passage to manhood.

Members of the portfolio committee on cooperative and traditional affairs (Cogta) held public hearings in parts of the province this week on the Eastern Cape Cultural Male Initiation Practice Bill of 2005.

The bill will repeal the Eastern Cape Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act of 2001.

But parts of the bill suggest that women should be allowed to visit their children when at circumcision school, a clause which was totally rejected by both traditional leaders and members of the public in areas such as Matatiele and Sterkspruit.

In response, Cogta portfolio committee chairman Mninawa Nyusile backtracked and apologised for inclusion of the clause.

“This is a serious mistake. We will rectify it. We cannot allow women anywhere near initiation schools,” Nyusile said.

He said the Eastern Cape also rejected the idea of medical circumcision, the brainchild of Health Minster Aaron Motsoaledi. But Nyusile said they have asked the ministry not to market the programme in the Eastern Cape, as it would receive resistance.

The bill also suggests that boys only undergo the rite after turning 18, a clause Matatiele residents want reviewed. They want the required age to be dropped to 16 years. The traditional leaders have also demanded they have a final say in anything related to the circumcision rite, including sanctioning those who flout the rules.

According to the bill, the health MEC is the only one who has powers to grant permission to circumcise or treat initiates in consultation with the relevant traditional leaders or initiation committee. The same MEC also has powers to close down an initiation school when he deems fit.

Chief Mthawelanga Ndamase of Libode said their main concern was that the bill accorded more powers to politicians than the custodians of the custom – the traditional leaders.

Landela Gwadiso said another concern about the bill was that in some cases traditional leaders who happen to flout parts of the bill were likely to be disciplined by the MEC. “Such a sanction will not be in line with custom. Chiefs are accountable to the king and only the king can sanction his chiefs,” Gwadiso said.

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders representative, Chief Mpumalanga Gwadiso said it was unacceptable that only Roman Dutch law would be used to deal with traditional matters, with traditional courts not hearing any of the cases.

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