Western Cape Government is ready for upcoming initiation season | Western Cape Government


Western Cape Government is ready for upcoming initiation season

13 November 2014

Media Statement by Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport

It is that time of the year when thousands of young men across the country embark on a crucial cultural journey of initiation. This rite of passage is practised by multiple cultural groups in South Africa and our province is no different.

The Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) has become the custodian of the ritual by providing much-needed support to traditional group leaders and surgeons to ensure that young people remain safe and healthy throughout this period.

While initiation has clear health implications, the Western Cape Government recognises it as a cultural practice performed by traditional experts. Our role always has been to provide the support needed to ensure that initiation schools are a safe place for all.

Unfortunately hundreds of young men are killed or injured during these seasons in our country due to botched initiation rituals. In the last five years, an estimated 313 initiates have died and around 1 865 have been injured due to initiation rituals gone wrong. This figure is way too high.

That is why we have welcomed the national Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ (COGTA) move to draft a policy that will promote the constitutional rights of affected young men (and women) while respecting the importance of customary traditions. Recently the Western Cape Government submitted its comments on the policy and we proposed that the challenges associated with initiation require national legislation or regulations to be enacted to tackle it more effectively through the power of ‘hard law’ rather than ‘soft law’, like policy.

It is our view that the death of many young people during this time is in fact a national crisis. In response to these challenges DCAS developed a Western Cape Initiation Framework and Protocol in 2011, which incorporates the provincial Department of Health’s circumcision strategy entitled Cultural Recognition and Health Support.

We believe this protocol has allowed us to keep many young men going through initiation safe and this is reflected by the low fatality rate we have in the province.

Western Cape Government’s measures:

DCAS, in consultation with the Department of Health and our initiation forums, has worked hard to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young men attending initiation schools in the Western Cape.

Through our partnerships with traditional leaders and surgeons, we have managed to provide them with the requisite support in order to make initiation and initiation schools a much safer place.

We have been doing so since our policy framework came into being in 2011.

Since then we have:

  • established DCAS’s mandate of protecting, promoting and preserving cultural heritage balanced out with the medical implications that the ritual has;
  • jointly established a steering committee that deals with medical male circumcision and the initiation or traditional circumcision programme;
  • formed partnerships with the relevant initiation forums, municipalities and provincial departments such as Health and Cape Nature, which work towards protecting the custom of initiation as well as safeguarding the medical wellbeing of all initiates; and 
  • hosted an initiation workshop last year and earlier this year, which was attended by traditional leaders, traditional surgeons and representatives from local and provincial government who were all in agreement about the need to promote the wellbeing of initiates while at the same time creating an enabling environment for this very important custom to be practised.

Concurrently, the Department of Health has undertaken to:

  • provide first-aid training and kits for traditional healers and surgeons;
  • provide bibs to nurses who assist during the ceremonies;
  • provide districts with the services of a doctor (on call) for circumcision camps;
  • encourage local authorities to have clean running water points at circumcision camps; and
  • engage traditional healers and surgeons through their local forums about the ritual and its medical implications.

According to Mr Theuns Botha, Minister of Health, his department plays a secondary role and is geared to perform medical male circumcisions, but DCAS is the primary role player as initiation constitutes an important cultural practice amongst a significant section of the population of the Western Cape. The goal of the Government is to promote the cultural practice without compromising our health objectives. We support methods that can be implemented without compromising the cultural practice of initiation, therefore the main focus is the supply of services that support and respect the initiation process.  Health has undertaken to supply HIV Testing and counselling to all initiates and the delivery of sterile surgical packs for use during traditional circumcision, as well as and post-operative counselling where requested.

Initiation forums are the initial point of contact for engaging with communities pertaining to initiation. Forums consist of carers, traditional surgeons and practitioners of the culture. A total of 30 initiation forums have been established within towns where sites are present. We believe it is through our good relationships with these different stakeholders and the guidance we receive from our forums that we can have a framework policy that works well to look after all those involved.


The management of the initiation programme has three phases of which the pre-initiation phase is a very important period, as it is during this time that the Department ensures that appropriate systems are in place to mitigate possible risks related to the initiation season. Activities such as training and engagement with forum members, municipalities and relevant service departments take place.


A total of 118 cultural practitioners received first-aid training facilitated by the Department. The 118 consist of four traditional surgeons and 114 carers. The content of the training focused on identification of dehydration, excessive bleeding, wound care and insects/snake bites.  The duration of the training was three days. Participants were from Cape Winelands, Eden, Central Karoo, Overberg and City of Cape Town.

Engagement with municipalities

DCAS engaged with a total of 14 municipalities to sensitise them to the practice within the municipal boarders. A meeting with the City of Cape Town will be taking place today in order for the process to be completed.

The primary purpose was to ensure that appropriate services are available during the season and that the practitioners follow the necessary steps for the utilisation of municipal land.

DCAS facilitated engagement with private land owners and the practitioners that will be responsible for the traditional initiation schools. These engagements aimed at ensuring that open communication and understanding of the conditions for utilisation of private land are agreed upon. Meetings were also held with adjacent land and business owners.

Fire management training

Fire management training is planned for 18 cultural practitioners on 15 November 2014. The fire management department of the Breede Valley municipality will facilitate the training and the content will focus on control and spread of bush fires during summer.

Primary health care facilities

Persons responsible for initiation sites will be provided with contact details of health facility managers. This facility has been introduced to ensure speedy response in the event of an emergency or where an initiate requires medical attention.

Medical officers allocated to initiation sites

Medical officers for Eden, Central Karoo, Cape Winelands and Metro have been identified. These are medical officers that can be approached in the event of an emergency.

Medical screening

Forums were sensitised to the importance of medical screening of all young men entering the initiation school.

Initiation radio clip

A radio clip is running for seven days and is focused on wishing all initiates well and emphasises the importance of an incident-free rite of passage. The message has been aired on Radio Zibonele, Radio Mhlobo Wenene and Bush Radio.

Establishment of reference group

Initiation is a ritual for which no practice models or precedent can be consulted to guide operations. That is why my Department has established a reference group of persons with the required indigenous knowledge to inform the roll-out of the initiation programme. It consists of experts in this field, e.g. practitioners, social anthropologist, medical officers specialising in public health and traditional leaders.

Establishment of a Departmental response team

A Departmental response team was established in preparation for this season. The team consist of individuals that have undergone the ritual and have an understanding of the cultural dynamics in the isiXhosa and Sotho/Hlubi cultures. The team will visit sites during the season and respond to matters as they occur. The team comprises nine Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport officials.


I would like to wish everyone well in this upcoming season. We will have an opportunity to reflect on this period and adapt our approach where needed with the initiation forums and practitioners after the season.

While the practice of initiation remains a cultural matter which is overseen by traditional leaders, it is crucial that government plays a supportive role where necessary. The death of hundreds of young people is not a cultural issue; it is a crisis that is a blemish to the entire executive. We appreciate the consultative relationship we are able to enjoy with the various traditional leaders and initiation forum leaders because they are able to inform all our efforts.

Media Enquiries: 

Siviwe Gwarube
Spokesperson for Minister Mbombo
Tel: 021 483 9800
Cell: 076 055 6280
E-mail: siviwe.gwarube@westerncape.gov.za