Outrage as men traditional leaders oust women from initiation debate*

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Outraged responses poured in on social media yesterday after the Daily Dispatch published the comments of male traditional leaders who rebuked their female counterparts for speaking out against the death toll associated with initiation practices in the province.

More than 500 boys have died as a result of initiation practices in the last eight years, and many more have been injured, mutilated or had penile amputations.

Queens and women traditional leaders broke their silence on initiation practices this week, accusing male traditional leaders of failing to institute the change needed to prevent more deaths.

Speaking at Imbumba Yamakhosikazi Akomkhulu (IYA), an organisation for queens and women traditional leaders, the women further advocated the introduction of medical male circumcision (MMC) in problematic areas of the province. Queen MaDosini Ndamase, the newly elected president of IYA, was scathing in her criticism.

“We carry our sons for nine months, raise them for 18 years or so and within three days or eight days in the hands of men, they die. We cannot keep quiet while this happens.”

Male traditional leaders fumed at the women’s comments, accusing them of trying to undermine their kings. The men also balked at the thought of introducing MMC.

Western Pondoland King Ndamase Ndamase’s spokesman, Prince Mlamli Ndamase lashed out at the women – especially Queen Ndamase, King Ndamase’s wife.

“We are surprised as AmaMpondo that our king’s wife spearheads the introduction of MMC. Yes, we know women have a role to play in male initiation, to a certain extent. That she could even go and debate the methods to be used for initiation is totally unacceptable and MMC is a disgrace,” Mlamli said.

Eastern Cape-born gender activist and researcher Nomboniso Gasa sharply criticised the male traditional leaders through a series of posts published on Twitter.

Gasa has written about and commented on traditional initiation for over a decade, and urged women to participate in debates around the practice as recently as August last year. In her tweets she addressed male traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape generally, criticising them for attempting to oust women from the initiation process.

“This confirms that a) you don’t know much about initiation as a rite of passage. If you do, you are deliberately confused,” she tweeted.

“This also confirms: b) you don’t give a toss about the lives of young men. You want to amass power and, yes, money.”

In response to the men’s suggestion that the women of IYA were trying to undermine them, Gasa wrote: “Why [do you feel undermined]? Crisis means us to pull together.”

Other twitter users soon joined the discussion, with user @gaving01 tweeting to Gasa: “If it stops [or] reduces death [or] disablement then please poke your nose in more.”

He added: “If women’s sons/nephews etc are being mutilated and having their lives ruined then women should have a say.”

Still others argued for an urgent departure from tradition.

“Not everything still needs to be done the traditional way,” tweeted user @AEmusic* @DK_Selowa.

User @cousinNorman stressed the need for gender equality.

“Women in South Africa today have equal rights spiritually. Traditional leaders must follow the constitution.”

Gasa charged that initiation has nothing to do with traditional leaders in the first place.

“Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape have no say in initiation. All this myth-making is part of the consolidation of Chiefly Power [sic],” she tweeted.

“Traditional leaders are also not custodians of customs. Custodians of customs are the people.”

“People live ‘custom’. Where necessary, they honour traditional leaders. They don’t ask permission to do their rituals,” Gasa added.

*This article was first published in The Daily Dispatch’s Dispatch Live on 17 July 2014.
opinion-grey Michelle Solomon is a reporter at The Daily Dispatch.
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