Initiation ritual

The initiation ritual is a ceremony that symbolizes the transition from boyhood to manhood for many males of the amaXhosa, amaHlubi, and abeSuthu. It is an important part of traditional culture that has been practiced for many years in rural areas of South Africa. During the ritual, males typically between the ages of 17 to 23, are circumcised and taught their responsibilities as men. The ritual reinforces individual and social identity, and failure to undergo this process can lead to serious social consequences for abantu males.

Click to learn about a historic perspective of the initiation ritual

Challenges Faced by initiation in Urban Environments

In recent years, there has been a mass migration from rural areas of the Eastern Cape to urban areas of the Western Cape driven largely by the need to find employment and the desire for a higher standard of life. This migration has created challenges in maintaining the initiation tradition, and the community has had to creatively adapt to a rapidly changing social and cultural environment.

Many migrants reside in informal settlements on the outskirts of Cape Town. Khayelitsha, for example, is a township located 30 km from the centre of Cape Town that has between 500,000 to 1,000,000 residents comprised of a large portion of abantu members who have migrated from the Eastern Cape (Lauren Alex, Jessy Cusack, Augustina Mills, Alejandro Sosa, Alex et al., 2007). In 2009 the City of Cape Town deemed it a priority to provide formal initiation sites for communities to practice their cultural tradition in urban areas such as Khayelitsha. The government has sought to address the economic, social, and health challenges of initiation through legislation and community outreach. Some specific challenges are lack of physical space, lack of seclusion, lack of site maintenance, and health complications. In order to further these efforts, the City of Cape Town has established an Initiation Task Team comprised of community leaders, elders, traditional surgeons, municipal and provincial government officials, and other major stakeholders with the goal of developing sustainable, safe initiation sites throughout the municipality.

Click to learn more about the challenges of initiation

Past Work Done by the Government

A series of community meetings or “indabas”, have been held by the Cape Town Initiation Task Team. In an indaba held in October 2009, stakeholders identified the challenges associated with the development of initiation sites in urban areas and proposed several approaches and recommendations. These recommendations included site allocation guidelines, the construction of infrastructure for the site that is currently being used, and the training of traditional surgeons and nurses to increase circumcision safety. Agreement between local and provincial governments is required to allocate easily accessible land. The support of the community is also important to sustain the tradition of initiation. In 2010, the designation of 11 initiation sites around the City of Cape Town was announced.

Click to learn more about government actions involving initiation

Langa Site FenceCase Analysis: Langa Initiation Site

Despite the work of the City of Cape Town Initiation Task Team, during every initiation season in Cape Town, the media has reported cases of health complications, site conflicts and community involvement issues caused by the initiation ritual (Piliso, Simpiwe, 2009). These issues have arisen due to lack of proper health and safety practice, lack of proper washing and sanitation facilities, discord between different abantu, and poor site locations (Piliso, Simpiwe, 2009). The initiation practice has not yet fully adapted to the urban environment, and still has many challenges to overcome.

The goal of this project is to develop a plan for the implementation of a safe and sustainable initiation site proximate to Good Hope College in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, that will be accepted by the Khayelitsha community. The team’s strategy for development considers major factors that include: site suitability, site requirements, site management practice, site maintenance practice, and the identification of stakeholders and community responsibility.

The team worked on site from October 20th to December 19th, 2010.  Over the seven week period, the team attended an initiation indaba, visited successful Langa Initiation Site, worked with city officials from several City of Cape Town departments, and spoke with Langa Initiation Site officials, a senior manager of the Western Cape Department of Arts and Culture, a traditional surgeon, an Eastern Cape Health Official, and Kirstenbosch Garden personnel to identify and further define the elements essential to the design of the Good Hope College Initiation Site.

Click to learn more about Langa Initiation Site