Minister slams rising circumcision deaths

Over 50 teens have died since the start of the initiation season across the country.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi lashed out at circumcision schools across the country on Tuesday following the deaths of 30 initiates in the Eastern Cape.

Motsoaledi said the practice of illegal circumcisions has become a growing problem across the country.

Over 50 teens have died countrywide since the start of the initiation season in June.

He however added that the number of circumcision deaths could have been far worse if government hadn't intervened.

Motsoaledi said illegal circumcisions were not only a criminal issue, but an issue of community development.

He said apart from kids often being forced against their will to attend these schools, many feel they must go on their own accord because of peer pressure.

"This is a sociological problem. Communities need to be mobilised."

Motsoaledi says the practice has in recent years been plagued by criminality.

"I can't as Minister of Health say that this tradition mustn't happen. While the issue is one of traditional leaders, there is also a lot of criminality."

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa says while the practice of traditional circumcisions is a cultural matter, it needs proper regulation.

Contralesa's Phathekile Holomisa's says government needs to give traditional leaders enough power and authority to ensure initiations are done properly.

"People do these things because the authority of traditional leaders in certain areas has been weakened."

In the latest incident, five people were arrested on Monday in connection with the deaths of 30 initiates in the Eastern Cape.

10 initiates were rescued from a forest in Mbizana on Sunday.

Since the beginning of the initiation season in the province, a total of 283 initiates have been hospitalised.

The injured are being treated for dehydration, gangrene and septic wounds while others have lost their genitals.

Eastern Cape police spokesperson Colonel Sibongile Soci said, "A number of cases ranging from murder to unlawful circumcision have been opened for circumcision related incidents since the beginning of the season."

Meanwhile, Eastern Cape Health Department Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said on Monday the number of boys in need of medical treatment due to botched circumcision puts added pressure on the resources at their health facilities.

"One hospital is treating over 36 boys. Now we've got to prioritise the boys over the entire group."

Kupelo said something urgently needs to be done as more lives continue to be lost during the initiation season in the province.

A GROWING PROBLEM

Last week, a 17-year-old initiate from Majemantsho village in Mahikeng died.

He had been assaulted all over his body and head with a sjambok.

North West Premier Thandi Modise said those guilty of committing atrocities at initiation schools are undermining traditional culture.

Modise's spokesperson Lesiba Kgwele urged traditional leaders to act as custodians of traditional culture to monitor initiation schools within their area of jurisdiction.

Leaders have also been asked to report ill treatment and illegal operations to authorities.

In June, people responsible for operating illegal initiation schools in Mpumalanga were banned for life from the practice.

They were allegedly performing circumcisions while drunk or in the dark. Some were also exhibiting satanic behaviour.

Provincial House of Traditional Leaders Chairperson Kgosi Mokoena said initiates in the area would be required to undergo medical examinations to determine whether they were fit to withstand the process.

HIJACKING AFRICAN CULTURE

In May, Motsoaledi blamed the deaths on conmen looking to make a quick buck.

He also accused initiation schools of hijacking African culture to make money.

"If you charge about R1,000 per initiate and you have 500 initiates, you've got R500,000 already. It's fast money and that's exactly what we're observing here."

The minister said laws are in place to govern who operates initiation schools, but these conmen abuse legislation.

"People hide behind democracy, citing it as a right to cultural expression. They come and launch it here in the city and say it's their culture."