Minister: Initiation should not threaten physical health

Maintaining physical health should not be one of the challenges faced by initiates attending an initiation school, Free State provincial minister of health Sakhiwo Belot said on Friday.

“I have the greatest respect for those initiates who endure the challenges set by attending an initiation school. However, I want to make it clear [that] one of those should not be their physical health,” Belot told a conference on initiation schools.

“Horrendous malpractices, often resulting in the physical, emotional and psychological debilitation and even death of young men in these schools are well known and have been reported.”

Belot said this was one of the reasons why his department had begun enforcing the Initiation Schools Health Act of 2004.

“I want to make it very clear that I have the greatest respect for culture practices, but when things or behaviours put the lives of people at risk, as [provincial minister] I have to intervene.”

According to the Act the provincial minister may regulate conditions under which an initiation school is held.

These include requesting the consent of parents, setting a legal age for initiation in relation to other applicable laws and the Constitution, and placing restrictions on what persons may treat an initiate.

According to the Act the, provincial minister may also set out powers and functions of the different responsible persons and determine penalties for transgressors in consultation with law-enforcement agencies.

“It is our duty to protect the health of the initiate,” Belot told the gathering of about 180 health practitioners and traditional representatives.

He urged all advocates of the custom to assist communities to deal with the health issues surrounding initiation schools.

Earlier, Free State health spokesperson Elke de Witt said the purpose of the conference was to get a common understanding of the Act as well as clarifying roles and responsibilities of all the stakeholders in implementing the Act.—Sapa

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