Circumcision schools say new lockdown does not apply to them

Traditional school leaders say they were not consulted and they will only stop if the president explicitly says they must

By Mkhuseli Sizani

28 June 2021

Photo of a man washing initiates hands

Zukile Bangani washes initiates’ hands with soap and water at KwaMagxaki Initiation School in Gqeberha. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

Circumcision schools in the Eastern Cape are not accepting that lockdown Level 4 applies to them, after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced stricter Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday night.

The provincial Department of Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) says circumcision is suspended with immediate effect, but traditional leaders say they will continue until the president tells them to stop.

On Monday morning, provincial COGTA spokesperson Mamkeli Ngam told GroundUp: “Circumcision has been stopped with immediate effect. Fortunately, we have few boys who have been circumcised and the number was expected to increase as soon as the schools are closed.

“But as from today, anyone who circumcises a boy will be arrested for breaking the Disaster Management Act. Imigidi (home-coming parties) have also been suspended.”

But Chief Velile Mfunda, chairperson of Cacadu District Traditional Leaders, said, “We are not against the law, but the president did not say circumcision was suspended. We will only stop it once we are consulted or the president makes that announcement.”

“In KwaMagxaki initiation school in Gqeberha in the last five days, there were 280 initiates: 12 in Wells Estate, 17 in Motherwell and 10 in Addo. This number is expected to increase especially now the president has brought forward the closure of the schools.”

Zukile “Snake” Bangani, from KwaZakhele township, who practices both as ingcibi (traditional surgeon) and ikhankatha (traditional nurse) says COGTA must consult with them.

“I have 65 initiates and tomorrow I will circumcise 15 boys in Walmer township. COGTA cannot just shut down circumcision without consulting us. There is no danger here of an initiate that has been infected by Covid-19. All the boys are healthy and strong. Regulations [Covid-19 measures] are adhered to.”

Zanele Hlulani, a parent in Zwide, said, “We were planning to do umgidi for our son this coming weekend. But all our plans have been disrupted because alcohol sales have been banned and social gatherings.”

Winter circumcision season started in June. So far, Ngam said: “In Joe Gqabi District municipality one initiate died in Elundini in an illegal circumcision school. He went for medical examination on 25 May and he did not get a circumcision certificate. He was circumcised on 8 June. But we are still waiting for his autopsy results. Another one was admitted in hospital in Buffalo City Municipality last week after he was denied his chronic medication.”

What the law actually says

In South Africa, neither what the president says, nor anyone else for that matter, determines what the law is. The law is published in government gazettes.

A gazette with the new lockdown regulations was published last night. Section 19 states that under lockdown level 4 no new “initiation practices” can start. But, initiation practices that began before the lockdown was declared may continue, so long as health measures such as social distancing are in place.

It’s unclear if this allows boys to join an initiation school that’s already started. It’s also unclear what precisely an initiation practice is.