At 17, Sinoyolo hoped to become a “man” in the traditional initiation rites of the Xhosa ethnic group, but the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa has truncated his plans.
Sinoyolo’s uncle – a fictitious name – had organized his stay in December in the mountains around Port Elizabeth (south) for the initiation ceremonies called “Ukwaluko”, which mark the passage of adolescents into adulthood.
Every year in June and December, thousands of Xhosa boys between the ages of 15 and 17 are circumcised and learn to become responsible men.
But for the first time, traditional Xhosa kings, princes and chiefs, the etina of former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, have suspended this annual ritual, during which young people share a hut, with the only sanitary company of a healer.
In April, a month before the confinement in South Africa, they decided to postpone the June ceremonies. Later, when they saw that the epidemic would last for months, they canceled all the epidemics for the year, Afra Msutu, a traditional Xhosa chief, told ..
“If we send them there and some boy tests positive, they would all be infected,” he alleges.
“When you go to the mountains to be circumcised, for the first seven days you are very vulnerable,” says Afra Msutu, so “we told ourselves that it would be too dangerous and that we would risk losing more boys than usual.”
– The essential: “come back alive” –
Circumcisions, which are performed in poor sanitary conditions, leave dozens of deaths every year, as well as many victims of dehydration and infections.
Sinoyolo recognizes that the postponement of his initiation brings him some relief, both for the duration of the rites and for the risks of contracting covid-19, which has officially left more than 11,000 dead out of some 570,000 confirmed cases in South Africa.
For both him and the traditional boss, the worst would have been having to interrupt or shorten the initiation.
“When you are in the mountains, you should not return before the end even if you are sick because you would lose your values,” explains Afra Msutu.
“We didn’t want to risk the community considering the 2020 kids weak because they wouldn’t have made it to the end” of the process, he says.
Sinoyolo fully agrees and insists on the importance of initiation. “Older people do things that you cannot do and treat you like a child, that is why I want to increase my level” within Xhosa society, says the teenager.
Afra Msutu assures that the decision to cancel the ceremonies this year has been unanimous. “Although going to the mountains can be very exciting, the essential thing is to come back alive.”