Eastern Cape initiate found hanged in tree; another disappears after traditional circumcision
Since the opening of the summer initiation season in the Eastern Cape at the beginning of November, about 12 initiates have died. In the most recent incidents, one initiate disappeared and another was found hanged in a tree.
Ntsikayomzi Mdladla (21) apparently fled after his traditional circumcision in the Eastern Cape on 29 November and has not been seen since.
His father, Gcinikhaya Mdladla (54), said he was told by the traditional nurse (ikhankatha) that the initiate fled while being accompanied to a toilet in an open field.
Mdladla said his son had been circumcised by a traditional surgeon in Zimbane Valley, Mthatha. He was then returned to the initiation rondavels to be close to his parents and to be safe.
“The traditional nurse came here late, around 9pm and he agreed to look after my child… but later, around 11pm while I was at home, I heard the voice of the traditional nurse calling me, saying: ‘Uncle, uncle the initiates are running.’
“When I came close to them there was a second traditional nurse and I asked him who gave him permission to look after my child. My son never came back. He left his blankets and his stick behind.”
Mdladla said they searched for his son the following day at other initiation huts in a nearby forest and hospitals in Mthatha. He said the nurses “must tell us what happened and where our son is. If he is still alive he is naked because he left everything, including his blanket and his stick.”
Mdladla said the traditional nurse was inexperienced and only 23 years old.
The family was planning a welcoming ceremony (umgidi) for the initiate on 6 January 2023.
An initiate went missing in the Eastern Cape in December 2021, disappearing a day before his traditional welcoming ceremony, and has still not been found.
Since the opening of the summer initiation season in the Eastern Cape at the beginning of November, some 12 initiates have died. Most are from the OR Tambo District. Some of the deceased were underaged and went through initiation without the permission of their parents.
The Eastern Cape chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders, Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, told Daily Maverick they had been calling for the use of well-trained traditional nurses with at least 10 years’ experience.
“Clearly, there was negligence in this situation,” he said.
Responding to the reports of an initiate who was found hanged in a tree in a nearby forest in Langeni outside Mthatha, Nonkonyane said this was a “very, very strange” situation.
“We are calling on the police to investigate and open an inquest. Strange things are happening. It’s either suicide or he was killed. It is critical that we have a postmortem to find out what happened.
“In our custom, there is no way that an initiate cannot be in the sight of a traditional nurse and there are so many questions we have and we want anyone responsible to be brought to book,” Nonkonyana said.
“The traditional nurse failed that initiate; they should have watched that boy 24 hours.”
While his name has not been made public, the family of the 23-year-old who was found hanged said they were shocked by how he died.
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“We do not know what was going on in his mind. We never expected this. We are not going to comment further, we are still grieving, preparing for the funeral this weekend,” an elderly member of the family said.
Meanwhile, Nomabhonga Guqaz, the mother of a 13-year-old who was circumcised without her permission, called on the police to arrest the traditional surgeon who allegedly circumcised her son without her consent.
“I have opened a case at Ngqeleni Police Station and the boy was rescued from those initiation huts in Ngqeleni and taken to another safe one in Corana locality near Mthatha,” she said.
Last year, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane said murder charges should follow the negligent deaths of initiates. DM/MC