Life continues as normal in some rural areas of the Eastern Cape

A view of the beach from the cliffs along the Wild Coast in Transkei.
A view of the beach from the cliffs along the Wild Coast in Transkei.
Image: 123RF/LEON SWART

From boys illegally being circumcised to the elderly attending traditional ceremonies in their hundreds and budding sports stars honing their skills, life continues as normal in some rural areas in the Eastern Cape.

This is despite SA being on lockdown, a move that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced as a measure to flatten the curve on the graph as the world battles Covid-19.

While there has been a general attempt to follow the rules of the lockdown in urban areas, that has not been the case in many rural areas. 

Contralesa provincial secretary Nkosi Mkhanyiseli Dudumayo said they were deeply concerned as not only were villagers disobeying the president's orders, but they were putting their lives at risk as they might be infected with the respiratory illness.

On Friday, he said, he chased after a group of boys who were playing soccer while he was on his way from Mqanduli to Libode and Ngqeleni to shut down illegal initiation schools.

Initiation has been suspended in the province. Last week, two initiation schools were demolished and burnt in Nxarhuni village, East London, as traditional leaders enforced the ban.

Dudumayo, who is the OR Tambo traditional initiation forum chair, said there were more than 20 initiates who had undergone the Xhosa passage to manhood illegally in Libode and Ngqeleni villages.

At Mthombe-Tsitsa village in Libode, seven illegal initiates managed to run away before Dudumayo and his delegation got to them. The initiates that did not run away were not taken to hospitals but released to their parents' care.

“There are people calling themselves men who are circumcising boys and there are parents who are not assisting but making the situation worse. I fear for the worst when it comes to the coronavirus and rural areas.

“If people continue to misbehave this thing will kill us all. This is not a joke. We have managed to close down illegal initiation schools, but only arrested one bogus traditional initiation surgeon,'' he said.

''This [coronavirus] affects everybody, poor or rich, educated or illiterate, a villager or city person. Nobody is immune.”

Last week police raided homes in Mthatha, Dutywa, Butterworth, Ngcobo and other towns — where some villagers had been holding cultural ceremonies and where many litres of umqombothi were drunk and  cows, sheep and goats slaughtered for hundreds of people.

The alcohol was confiscated and a number of people were arrested.

Dudumayo called on the government, religious leaders, business people, civil society and communities to work together by obeying the lockdown regulations and staying at home, practising good personal hygiene and keeping a two-metre physical distance from others.

“In some villages, there are still people who sell home-brewed beer and continue with their rituals and cultural ceremonies. In such ceremonies people drink from one container and this virus can spread fast. Children are using this time to play sport or go to initiation schools. Their parents are illegally performing cultural ceremonies and slaughtering cows and brewing umqombothi.”

AmaXhosa royal family spokesperson Nkosi Xhanti Sigcawu, in conjunction with the health department, said they had established Covid-19 committees in all four spheres of traditional leadership to ensure that nobody undermined the lockdown regulations.

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chair Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyane urged traditional leaders and their subjects to take Covid-19 seriously.


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