Many South African men of the amaXhosa tribe and some Nguni speaking people have gone through the sacred Ulwaluko initiation rite which ushers boys into manhood. The ancient ritual includes traditional circumcision and weeks of seclusion to teach boys about their history, culture and responsibilities as men.
The controversial ritual has resurfaced in many communities where boys of all ages and as young as seven years old are enrolled in initiation schools at various locations during the winter season in late June/early July or late November/ early December.
The controversy is aligned with the number of deaths and accidents recorded over the years as some boys die out of botched circumcisions while others get their penises severed by incompetent practitioners at illegal initiation schools.
In December last year, 16 boys died in Eastern Cape alone at initiation school where boys are also prevented from taking Western medication or risk being stigmatized by their peers.
The boys normally go through the rite in a group and are confined to a hut in the first 7 days and restricted from eating certain foods. The second phase takes between two to three weeks when the boys are looked after by the ikhankatha (a traditional attendant) who takes them through traditional lessons during which the ingcibi (traditional surgeon) surgically removes their foreskins.
Per tradition, no one is supposed to speak of what happens at the initiation schools else they risk being assaulted. The huts and initiates’ possessions are burnt at the end of the ritual and they are given new blankets after they wash down in rivers depending on their location. They are then called men and not boys.
Regardless of the age, if an amaXhosa man does not go through the Ulwaluko initiation rite, he is still considered a boy. However, Twitter user Mmakobo Thage’s young son will not be considered a boy since he had just returned from the initiation school.
He happily tweeted: “My son was there too…came home safe”. This was in response to a tweet about the return of scores of initiates after weeks in the bush in Mpepule Village, Bolobedu Limpopo.
My son was there too…came home safe pic.twitter.com/Y7GHhXitd3
— Mmakobo Thage (@Reginah_Thage) July 14, 2018
The tweet started a whole debate about the initiation rites and why it should be banned. Other Twitter users supported the rites and argued that the issue of deaths are mainly from some areas and they need to be checked.
The Eastern Cape is heavily affected by deaths of initiates every year and the government has cautioned against enrolling children in illegal initiation schools that are springing up in the country.
Early this year, another controversy emerged around the initiation ritual after the award-winning film ‘Inxeba’ was released to portray the experiences of homosexual men during Ulwaluko.
There were protests against the film and calls for it to be banned in the country as Xhosa traditional leaders said it undermined their culture and exposed their hidden traditions.
Despite the controversies, the initiation rights continue and the only problem expressed by many is the number of deaths from improperly done circumcisions by illegal traditional surgeons.
Here are diverse views of South African men on the initiation rites.
Initiation is so nice and cool. Thanks to amaXhosa for ruining everything for us.
— Khotsofalang ? ? (@RK_Mayekisa) July 13, 2018
Kante doesn’t @GovernmentZA say 18+ years?.mara the good thing ka Limpopo ke hore they return basantse baphela
— BLACKBIRD ? (@_GAOBAKWE) July 13, 2018
I was 9years when I went to Initiation school , …. Government doesn’t have a say in traditional affairs … Kere zweghwile zweghwamathuku Morena…. #ProudlyMolobedu
— I Am French ???? #WorldCup????? (@seun_madrista) July 13, 2018
I can’t let my son go through this…no i refuse ?
— precious kulani (@kuli_mathebula) July 14, 2018
Mostly in Pedi culture 11, 12,13 years is the age group u would find in initiation schools..
That’s purely to avoid some complications on initiates nd winter is the time for initiation. We are glad they back safe.
— Dithomo Elliott Sedibane (@Ellsed) July 13, 2018
This is the most heartwarming moment of the initiation school. When the young lads come back home. @MissMolatelo we still need to do a documentary on this practice, to show that in Bolobedu we don’t have all these deaths that happens in other provinces.
— matome w senyolo (@mwsenyolo) July 13, 2018
I was also 9 years when i went there, koma ya tshwale is one of the safest koma in limpopo. You have a peace of mind when your son is there.
— The GURU (@TheGURU11875701) July 13, 2018
I was 7 when I went through this
— Vendalyze (@amirduncan) July 13, 2018
I remember myself in 1985 when i see this pictures, proud African traditions and culture ✊✊✊
— Mashudu Mulamu (@mglmulamu) July 13, 2018
Traditionally we as women we should be topless there but since this “rights” came thats how we do it.. Tshwale weh aona ya ose fele koma..
— Pridey (@Pride69932559) July 14, 2018
You won’t understand if@you haven’t been there at that age some of us understand. We’ve always done it that way and it is our African culture.
— Mashudu Tshikalange (@MashuduT) July 13, 2018
Went at age 12 in 2000 i was damn happy,parents were proud of me its such a great moment.
— Moloko (@_Moloko_M) July 14, 2018
We should all unite and respect other cultures and rituals Africa is for Africans and with that we will go far as a continent respect to these guys for making it. And no respect whatsoever to those comparing tradition. Power to the people ?
— MthiWobomi. (@LukhanyoGrootb1) July 13, 2018
I was 4years 1986 june 15
— Dr Thabang (@DrThabang2) July 13, 2018
Great well done ?? … did you know other cultures initiate at birth ??? ?? … (Just small info for those concerned about age) .
It’s funny how “this” other group always flaunt about them being man …. very arrogant group to say the list !!! ….. they use that LINE qho!
— MASEDI … ??✌???? (@ItumelengMasedi) July 15, 2018
Keep up this age old African tradition.
— TT (@Topsy1966) July 14, 2018
Hope they are all well and healthy?
— Kim (@Kim99733740) July 15, 2018