Initiation within the black community is a cultural imperative or rite of passage. With the initiation season barely started, so far this year the death toll already stands at 23. Foremost amongst the various trials that the initiates undergo is a circumcision by a traditional healer. The number of penectomies – the amputation of the penis – has not been recorded and never is as it normally merely included under the figure of disfigurement and other serious injuries. In any other society there could even result in the downfall of the government but in South Africa it only rates a mention on page three or five of the newspaper.
The use of an initiation to induct a member into a society, club or institution has a long history across all civilisations. The form of initiation which subjects the initiate to physical pain, mental torture or death has been severely circumscribed within most of the first world over the past few decades. Within South Africa’s black society on the other hand, it appears still to play a significant role especially within rural communities.
Main picture: Initiates or amaKwetha covered in white clay and the traditional knobkerrie