Cape Town - Xhosa boys undergoing initiation in Cape Town this winter have been left exposed after land invaders cut down the bushes that usually shield them from view.
Land invaders from the Marikana informal settlement cut down bushes and trees at a site in Philippi East in an unsuccessful attempt to occupy the land, leaving initiates exposed to road users and the public.
Traditional circumcision surgeon Sikelela Zokufa said initiates should be far from the community, “in the heart of the bush” so they are only seen by men who have themselves undergone initiation.
“The exposure is affecting the initiation very badly,” he said, explaining that in urban settings, initiation sites must be protected from view.
“An example of a (proper) initiation site is in Langa,” said Zokufa.
“It is fenced with trees and community members can not see the initiates”.
The occupation of the Philippi East site on the corner of the R300 and Stock Road was meant to follow the successful occupation of the area now known as Marikana informal settlement.
Zokufa said before Marikana was occupied in August last year, it was known as the Goal Initiation Site.
It accommodated more than 200 initiates during the June and December initiation seasons.
The site had been used by initiates from Gugulethu, Tambo Village, Nyanga, Cross roads and Philippi, before it was occupied.
These initiates have had to find alternative space.
“Marikana was the biggest site and it was suitable for initiation because it was not exposed to the communities,” he said.
Tania Colyn from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport said the provincial government was unaware of the R300 site, but agreed that it was exposed.
She said the official initiation site for the area, since the Marikana land invasion, is known as Joe Gqabi and was close to the site on Stock Road.
“Joe Gqabi is dense and out of sight of the public,” she said.
Colyn said another initiation site on Denel land in Khayelitsha could be used this year for initiation, after it was the target of an unsuccessful land invasion.
Although some trees and bushes had been cut down, Colyn said the “further removal of trees” had been stopped, and the site had not been “severely” affected.
She said that in “Xhosa culture the family plays a central role in the decision-making pertaining to the rite of passage.
In this case the families erected the huts on the dunes.”
Zokufa said land grabs have put strain on cultural practices as initiates are now exposed to the public, which is disrespectful to Xhosa culture.
“The invading of the sites by the communities shows disrespect and undermines our culture. It undermines the people who perform these cultural practices in the Western Cape. We condemn that behaviour.”
Marikana community leader Joseph Makeleni said the “administration of the city” was to blame for the invaders occupying land in Marikana and forcing initiates off.
“They know we need places to stay yet they choose to turn a blind eye,” he said.
“It was not because we wanted to disturb initiates when we invaded the land but we had no choice, we wanted a place to stay and that land just happened to be the closest.
According to the Department of Cultural Affairs, 25 sites throughout the province have been identified for initiation season.
But, according to the Imbo Initiation Council, few of these sites are wholly suitable for initiation.
“Not all of them are suitable, we have recommended that they must be re-zoned and developed to suit initiation”.