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Practicing Rites of Passage by Southern Ndzundza Ndebele During Covid-19: is it safe for male initiation schools to operate during Covid-19?

Monicca Thulisile Bhuda
Motheo Koitsiwe


Initiation schools, which are components of rites of passage, are registered cultural institutions for both men and women. They are long standing traditions of Africans and serve as rites of passage, where young people are indigenously educated and prepared for adulthood life. In South Africa, indigenous people such as the Ndebele, Xhosa, Sotho, and Pedi still honour initiation processes and they practice them on a year basis. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19, these practices have been affected and were suspended several times by the government. Rites of passage serve as culture identity and are critical stages of life in many African societies. Their suspensions disrupt cultural processes such as ceremonies and basic life skills education, which are the foundations of rites of passage. This study used qualitative research method an aimed to investigate the participants’ perceptions on the Covid-19 pandemic and how it may affect rites of passage, specifically male initiation schools. Using a convenience sampling procedure, in-depth interviews and focus group interviews as tools, thematic analysis to generate themes, the findings of this study reported that most people are curious about the proceeding of male initiation because they are critical aspect of Ndebele culture and serve as identity. They have further expressed that they will be compliant with every rule and law suggested by government and house of traditional leaders in order to save lives from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, they fear the opening of illegal initiation schools, which will be caused by the suspension of initiations. They argued that if the decision is taken to suspend initiation schools, government, communalities and traditional leaders need to work together in order to prevent illegal initiation schools.

Key words: rites of passage; initiation school; government; tradition leaders; traditional leadership; identity; Covid-19