NEWS24.COM, Johannesburg, Wednesday, 28 July 2004.

Initiation likened to war

28/07/2004 12:45 - (SA)

Mdantsane - The controversy surrounding botched circumcisions at initiation schools is well known but a new phenomenon is taking place - naming initiation schools after war torn cities and countries around the world.

Now Mdantsane schools carry names like Afghanistan (Zone 12), Kuwait (Zone 1), Beirut (Zone 5), Bosnia (Nxaruni), Rwanda (Zone 3) and Panama City (Zone 12).

Others such as Sun City (Zone 9 and Zone 16, Sacramento (Zone 9) and Atlanta (Zone 17) do not have quite the same ring, but nevertheless indicate a novel trend that is catching on quickly.

The Daily Dispatch this week visited some of the camps and asked initiates why the schools were getting such names. The majority of the newly graduated young men agreed that the names - particularly of countries that have been ravaged by war - were derived from the tough life these youngsters anticipate when they are in the bush.

Initiation schools similar to a war zone

Sinethemba Mgcebele, 17, who was circumcised at Zone 2 initiation school, said when initiates go into the schools, they think of themselves as being on the warpath. To them, going to the schools is similar to a brave soldier who is facing a war situation.

Those who have never gone through the ritual regard circumcision as a heroic deed that only brave boys undertake. They enter the schools with the understanding that they are not going to be in for a luxurious life, but experience only pain and suffering. As a result, they feel some connection to people in places like Afghanistan, Beirut, Rwanda and Bosnia who have known the suffering of war.

Being in the schools the initiates expect no mercy from their traditional surgeons (Iingcibi) and traditional nurses (amakhankatha). They are expected to abide by the tough rules of the custom, that demands that they sacrifice all the comforts of home.

Not only that, but many are victims of illegal circumcisions in which they pay varying amounts to unauthorised traditional surgeons (ingcibi) to perform illegal operations on their genitals.

Often these operations go horribly wrong and scores of youths die or are mutilated in the camps every season.

The Health Department said the abusive treatment of initiates by traditional nurses and other men could have a bearing on the naming of these initiation schools.

Department provincial spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo believes that the naming might have been influenced by the manner in which these people treated the initiates.

However, Kupelo said the names did not matter to his department. "We do not care how they name them, but our concern is unnecessary deaths, "he said. Kupelo added that it was up to the custodians of the custom, who are traditional leaders, to change those names. He said all his department wanted was to ensure that the lives of initiates were saved.

Children as young as 12 years have been circumcised, two of them in Duncan Village recently. In terms of the custom and irrespective of their age, these children will from now on enjoy equal manhood status with their elders.

This means that other children of their age group must accord them with the same respect they give the elderly men - if they survive Afghanistan, Beirut or Rwanda.

(File created 19 June 2005)