POLICY BRIEF: Customary Practice of Initiation in South Africa
15 August 2023
The Eastern Cape is well known for the practice of Isiko lolwaluko (male traditional initiation) and is a tradition that remains widely practiced and historically documented in reports dating from 1789. The practice usually takes place at initiation schools, undertaken in areas that may encompass a lodge built at a secluded location, sometimes in the mountains, which was not easily accessible or identifiable. While initiation schools are usually located in secluded areas so as not to compromise their operations and functionality, their remoteness and inaccessibility are major obstacles in cases of emergency (such as medical emergencies). On the other hand, the establishment of initiation schools in crowded urban areas without the authority of a traditional leader and also with insufficient space for appropriate initiation activities poses its own unique challenges. Currently in South Africa, this rite of passage is permitted to be practiced only in traditional initiation schools that are approved by government authorities. The operating permit or legal status is awarded to traditional initiation schools after they have complied with the current regulations. However, there are challenges related to compliance and verification in legal initiation schools and despite government efforts against illegal circumcision schools and illegal traditional surgeons, some schools are not registered with and endorsed by relevant bodies.