Ukuthwasa among young children in Northern KwaZulu-Natal is emerging as an unnoticed issue threatening young children’s educational rights and future. Ukuthwasa is a rite where children are compelled by their families to drop out of school to accept the so-called ‘ancestral calling’ to become ‘izangoma’. Izangoma (diviners) have supernatural powers to treat various illnesses that emanate from witchcraft or are artificial. Ukuthwasa, as an ancestral calling, goes together with spiritual powers. Many young people, mainly from black communities in rural South Africa, are subjected to this calling.
IMPACTS OF UKUTHWASA ON EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS AND THE FUTURE OF YOUNG ADULTS
One of the key concerns is that these young children who are possessed with ‘idlozi’ (ancestral spirits) drop out of school to follow what the ‘living dead’ (ancestors) want. The practice of Ukuthwasa, therefore, affects these young adults’ rights to education. It sometimes puts their future in an in-between of hope and despair.
Involuntary participation and violation of rights to self-determination
Unlike choosing a career, i.e. studying to become a lawyer, and so forth, these young adult individuals do not voluntarily choose to pursue this route of Ukuthwasa. Due to fears of not knowing what will happen in their lives for refusing to accept the calling, these young adults find themselves doing something they do not like.
Uncertainties and exposure to inescapable poverty and hopelessness
Only some of these callings are natural. And since ‘Ukuthwasa’ has no specific time frame, some young adults spend some time away from their homes. After all rituals, some children discover the calling is untrue after giving so much money to their trainers, the so-called ‘chief traditional healers’ (ugobela). At this stage, they are no longer children but adults since the rituals took so many years of their time. They lose their educational rights and end up in poverty and despair.
Some of these young children who are not successful in this practice end up being mentally disturbed for the rest of their lives, which is also questionable and worrying.
Although it is difficult to intervene on issues of this nature, human and children’s rights organisations and professionals should work with families concerned to ensure that these young adults’ rights to education are not violated. At least they should be allowed to finish their education before pursuing this route of Ukuthwasa. Indeed, the practice of ‘Ukuthwasa’ is part of African culture and should be respected. However, children’s rights to education are also a priority.