PREMIER'S PERSPECTIVE: Keeping circumcision safe

The winter circumcision season is well underway, and many initiation schools across the country have opened their doors to young men who are participating in this traditional rite of passage, the sacred path towards adulthood and manhood.

This rite of passage is critical to initiates developing into responsible, community-oriented adults and has been a central element of our traditional cultures since time immemorial and a necessary part of our communities.

Much of what happens at the schools is shrouded in secrecy, but it also involves learning traditional songs and dances, tribal history and societal values and laws.

Rites of passage in adolescence are a cross-cultural phenomenon. They have existed throughout human history and may be a significant factor in the development of a stable adult personality.

In most cultures there are specific rites of passage related to birth, coming of age, marriage, death, and graduation from some form of educational experience, to name a few examples.

It is a pity the initiation season is sometimes characterised by the mushrooming of illegal initiation schools all over the country by unscrupulous people who aim to make money from this important traditional practice.

Unfortunately sometimes boys die. Others are hospitalised from botched circumcisions or injuries caused by the strict corporal punishment used by teachers.

The death of young men who are the future of the country can never be tolerated. We are happy that the recognition of the right to practise one’s culture should not take precedence over the right to life, and this has reduced the number of deaths from 24 last year to six so far this year.

The custom of initiation is, and should be nothing else but a happy occasion. It saddens me to see that we continue to experience the death of young people due to negligence and greed. Together we must act to stop this.

We should be proud our country is a democratic state that gives people latitude to practise their beliefs, but we’ve got to find a way to do so while protecting the health and safety of our boys. One death is one death too many. It saddens us to see families grieving the loss of their children due to botched circumcisions.

We also noted that several arrests were effected during the previous season, which will hopefully act as a deterrent for perpetrators of some of the acts that led to initiate deaths.

We urge communities to report any wrongdoing related to initiation using this hotline number – 0800 111 166 or #InitiationDTA.

One cannot take the life of an innocent youngster and then avoid responsibility under the guise of it being “cultural”.

People who botch circumcisions and conduct them in a way that results in death must be arrested and prosecuted.

No person should die in South Africa without those who are responsible being held accountable.

The rite of passage is not a licence for abuse of initiates but a process designed to usher young men into adulthood and it is a cultural practice that needs to be respected. We cannot allow any more deaths. Working together we will continue to seek effective ways of making this tradition the pleasant experience it is supposed to be.

As a government, we have a duty to protect lives of our citizens. Thanks must go to the national ministry for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Department of Health, the South African Police Services, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Congress of Traditional Leaders for working together to save lives.

We urge parents to be involved in the circumcision process from start to finish when their sons return home at the end of July or early August from the various initiation schools as this will assist in saving lives.

As the sites of a rite of passage, circumcision schools have been part of our rich cultural tapestry for generations, and will continue to play an extremely important role for a long time.

Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on Twitter on EC_Premier