Uproar over initiation deaths

Media reports from most of the country’s provinces have indicated that a growing number of initiates was either being admitted to hospitals or dying as a result of failed circumcision procedures.

A lot of the circumcision operations were also being conducted by illegal “surgeons” in illicit initiation schools.

Concerns finally reached their peak following the death two weeks ago of yet another would-be initiate in the Eastern Cape, whose death took the circumcision toll in that area to 16.

Police said a post-mortem had confirmed that the young man had died of septicaemia, an infection that had stemmed from his circumcision.

Health department spokesperson, Luyanda Majeke, said the youth had been attending an illegal initiation school at Mooiplaas outside East London and police had been deployed to arrest the “surgeon” at the school.

Following the recent death of the youth, some members of the public have called on all relevant officials to clamp down on the illegal initiation schools.

“Something definitely needs to be done and we hope that the police or the department of health will do something before this thing gets much, much worse. These boys will continue to die if they don’t start acting now to close down these illegal initiation schools and arrest the people who are conducting the circumcisions. It is a very sad and dangerous situation,” Madidimalo Mokoena said.

Families who have lost children in some provinces have said they will be lobbying parliament for stiffer sentences for people involved in illegal initiations.

“Maybe part of the problem is that they feel very little will be don to them and so they think they can go ahead and go about the process any way they want. But it’s not right and so maybe we should go to higher authorities,” Aaron Khanyisa said.

Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Whitey Jacobs has proposed that a formal initiation school be set up in Cape Town.

“We need to find a site and build up a structure that will have data of all traditional surgeons and ensure that they work with the health department to ensure health risks are eliminated,” he said.

However, Jacobs said the problem was that several communities had rejected a permanent structure, arguing that it would provide too much exposure for a discreet traditional ritual.

Several initiates have been admitted to hospital with circumcision-related complications that have included gangrene and malnutrition this season, while some have also been admitted for re-circumcision.

The department of health has also said it will be going around the country on an outreach programme aimed at raising awareness and educating the community about correct circumcision procedures.

Recently, traditional leaders in some parts of Pondoland, where most circumcision related deaths have occurred this season, said they want harsher sentences for those found guilty of performing illegal circumcisions.

Seventeen unlicensed surgeons have been arrested in the Eastern Cape alone during this circumcision season, and police officials say they will face charges ranging from murder to unlawful circumcision.

Prior to the beginning of the initiation season concerns were awash that mushrooming illegal sites would pose a serious health risk to circumcision candidates.

July 2006
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