Initiation against my religion: farmer

Initiation schools are against the religion of the Dutch Reformed Church and, according to this religion, it would be sinful behaviour and “in breach of the commandments of the Almighty God” to consent to such practices. These are some of the reasons stated by Bapsfontein farmer Jacob Visagie, for refusing permission to a family living on his farm to host an initiation school on his property.

The Ndala family, who have been living on the farm for some time, intend taking Visagie to the Randfontein Land Claims Court on Monday regarding his refusal to allow them to host the traditional ceremony on the farm. The family stated in court documents that the school was due to commence on May 20 and run until August 27. They said the four boys living on the farm were due to partake this year in the Ndebele tradition.

Although the initial ceremony will begin on another farm where the chief resides and where about 3 000 people were expected, the plan was that the Ndala family and the four boys would return to Visagie’s farm afterwards, where the ceremony could be completed within the close family circle. The Ndala family said this was for various reasons, including the need to ensure that the proceedings were conducted under safe and hygienic conditions. But farmer Visagie expressed his reservations about the safety and hygiene aspects of the ceremony, as well as the religious aspects of it. He refused permission to the family on the grounds that it was against his religion.

“We are Christians and members of the Dutch Reformed Church. The paying of homage to spirits of the dead is strongly against our religion, as is the marking of the body of a person for spiritual purposes.”

Visagie’s father-in-law, Johannes Jansen Van Vuuren, a dominie of his Church in Heilbron-South, said in a filed statement: “For Christians to allow an African school of initiation on their farm would be very difficult and would put a burden on their consciences, because the Bible explicitly forbids the practices which are done at such schools.”

In referring to some of these practices, namely the “worshipping of ancestor spirits and the practices of sangomas”, he quoted extensively from various Bible verses. In conclusion to his statement, he said: “In African initiation schools, the young people are taught to worship the spirits of their dead ancestors, and also how to make contact with them and make use of the services of sangomas. These youngsters are encouraged to follow a course to become a sangoma. The ancestor spirits are also utilised to make them strong for their lives to come.”

He said in light of this, Christians should not allow such practices on their property. Meanwhile, Visagie has voiced several other concerns regarding the school, such as potential risks to the health of the young boys concerned.

“We cannot consent to activities which may lead to deadly infections… or to activities which may lead to initiates losing their reproductive organs and the spreading of diseases like HIV and Aids.”

Visagie said no indication was given that the four young men in question would be protected against mutilation, and added that he could not allow uncontrolled circumcisions on his farm. He said his only personal experience in the past with an initiation school was not a pleasant one – some of his workers had been attacked by participants, which in turn had disrupted his farming activities.

As part of his objection, Visagie included the terms of reference by the SA Human Rights Commission’s public hearings into initiation schools, where problems featuring during this ceremony were discussed.

Visagie said that while he respected the traditional rights of the Ndala family, he denied that those rights included that he had to host the school on his farm.

source: Sunday Independent

* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Pretoria News on May 14, 2009