Covid-19: Circumcision schools suspended in Eastern Cape

Teams sent to Chris Hani, Komani, OR Tambo and Port St John’s to “rescue boys” in illegal schools, says Provincial Chair of House of Traditional leaders

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Photo of initiates
The Eastern Cape government has suspended circumcision to curb the spread of Covid-19. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

On Friday, a special council meeting in Bhisho took a decision to implement the Eastern Cape Provincial Integrated Containment plan for the Covid-19 outbreak. Among the decisions taken by the Executive Council of the Eastern Cape government is to suspend circumcision and imigidi (homecoming celebrations for initiates).

On Saturday morning, the national health minister announced that the province was the seventh province to register its first confirmed Covid-19 case – a 28-year-old woman who had travelled to Germany.

On Friday, Premier Oscar Mabuyane had said that the province was behind other provinces in dealing with Covid-19.

“All traditional initiation is suspended for the duration of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic,” said the premier. “We call on the people of the province to take heed of every message being issued by government because the intention is to protect all of us.”

The traditional gatherings involve coming together of families who travel from various provinces. Boys who live and study in Western Cape and Gauteng come home for circumcision.

Chief Velile Mfunda, chairperson of the Cacadu traditional leaders, said: “We are all shocked but we must heed to the call for the safety of our lives and children … Coronavirus has arrived in East London that means we are also not safe here too. We will meet with the initiation forums and discuss the importance of heeding to this call.”

But some traditional nurses (amakhankatha) and surgeons (iingcibi) say the ceremonies are their bread and butter and they wished they had been consulted.

Mike Kopisani of the Kampala Initiation school in St Albans near Port Elizabeth, who circumcises hundreds of boys every year, said: “This is shocking and disappointing because we were never consulted. We were not even taught or given a chance on how we can fight this virus at initiation schools.”

“This past weekend I had seven appointments with the parents of the boys who want to be circumcised in June. All over the country boys come to my school because I work both as ikhankatha and ingcibi. Last year in December, 483 initiates graduated from my school.”

Mboneli Dingela, an ingcibi from Motherwell, said: “I am really shocked with this decision but we can’t change it. We should have been consulted first and also be taught about hygiene measures to implement at initiation schools to prevent this virus.

“I am a father of three and I am unemployed. Circumcising boys helps me to be able to provide for my family.”

Provincial chairperson of the House of the Traditional Leaders Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana said: “We were all shocked, but after a meeting with MEC Xolile Nqatha, we were relieved. He said this suspension only applies to March and April circumcision seasons.

“We will sit down with MEC as we monitor the spread of the virus. We will ask for the circumcision to resume in winter.”

Chief Nonkonyana said there were already cases of illegal initiation schools being reported. “We have sent our teams to Chris Hani, Komani, OR Tambo and Port St John’s to rescue our boys after we received the reports that there were illegal circumcision schools in these districts. So far we don’t know how many boys were circumcised.”

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