Twenty three Xhosa teenagers are dead from a traditional initiation rite in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province called ulwaluko.
The initiation prepares young men for the transition to manhood through cultural teaching. There is also initiation for women that begins after their first menstrual period.
The circumcision is performed by a traditional surgeon known as incibi. The initiate is expected to show no pain and cry out “I am a man” when the process is completed.
He undergoes a month of solitary healing before being sequestered in a hut with a group of others. They are taught values, principles, hardships, respect and accountability within cultural tradition.
Having completed initiation, a man is called Umkhwetha. The hut (bhoma) that he and fellow initiates occupied is burned along with their boyhood clothing.
The process is actively carried out by the Xhosa people, although it occurs throughout South Africa.
An uninitiated man is called Inkwenkwe and may not attend tribal councils and other adult events.
Initiates are strongly discouraged from talking about what happens during the process.
The dead give in to dehydration or sepsis from circumcision at the start of the ceremony, which lasts between two and six months. The summer initiation season still has a month to run.
Since 1995, nearly a thousand young men have died from the initiation rite with at least twice that number forced to undergo penile amputation.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu and others hoped the official intervention of the Customary Initiation Act of 2021 might reduce the number of dead and injured.
Provincial premier Oscar Mabuyane has called for those responsible to be charged with murder.