Johannesburg - Inexperienced and bogus traditional surgeons are using a single razor blade to circumcise several initiates - exposing them to life-threatening diseases, including HIV/Aids.
This is just one of the shocking findings of an investigation by The Star into the deaths of at least 28 initiates in Mpumalanga since the start of the circumcision season on May 7.
Other harrowing stories that have emerged include those of botched circumcisions and drunk monitors.
The Mpumalanga deaths, which have drawn condemnation from around the country, occurred in the Nkangala district towns of Siyabuswa, KwaMhlanga, Verena, Kwaggafontein, Middelburg, Bethal and Evander.
The region falls under King Mabhoko III of the Ndebele people. At least six more initiates have died in Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district.
At a media briefing in KwaMhlanga on Friday, MEC for Health Candith Mashego-Dlamini said post-mortem results had shown the initiates died of haemorrhage, hypothermia and unnatural causes.
She laid the blame squarely on about 30 unauthorised traditional leaders.
“We noted with concern that there are traditional leaders who are not accountable to King Mabhoko but are currently conducting ingoma.
“This is concerning because the preliminary report of the Ingoma Forum suggests that most of the casualties emanated from those schools,” Mashego-Dlamini said.
Circumcision is part of ingoma, a ritual that boys go through to reach manhood.
In total, Mashego-Dlamini said, 134 traditional leaders were authorised.
She said the forum identified some of the weaknesses that resulted in the deaths, including instances of initiates - some on chronic medication - being circumcised before they were screened, and negligence among some amakhosana (junior traditional leaders or headmen)
The Star spoke to several independent sources closely involved in the circumcision rituals that will end on July 7.
The sources, mostly medical doctors and traditional leaders involved in the rituals, corroborated each other in revealing a practice ridden with fatal flaws.
“There are many individuals who are not traditional surgeons or traditional doctors going about circumcising these boys,” said one doctor.
“They are just ordinary people whose fathers used to be well-known traditional surgeons. They think it (traditional surgery) is a birthright. It’s not.
“There are those among them who use one razor (to circumcise many boys). They are just after money. It’s time that parents become involved and find out who the surgeons circumcising their children are,” said one traditional leader.
Two medical personnel corroborated claims of botched circumcisions saying these were as a result of unauthorised traditional surgeons performing them under pressure of tight deadlines.
“Some perform circumcisions at midnight under poor lighting because they have to cover many areas in one day,” said another doctor.
“It (circumcision) should start at 6am. But there are doctors still circumcising even after midnight. That is what we need to control.”
Asked how many initiates a surgeon could circumcise in a day, the doctor said he could see about 150 within one-and-a-half hours, on average.
The Star understands the issues of workload and deadlines was among those discussed at Friday’s meeting.
Ikosi Willem “VW” Mahlangu, the leader of the Ndzundza Fene Traditional Council - the second biggest Ndebele region, stretching from Moloto to Tweefontein, and where six initiates have died - blamed the fatalities on the initiates’ parents or caregivers and the amakhosana.
“The problem is negligence by parents and caregivers plus some amakhosana.
“It pains me because I communicate with the amakhosana and they tell me that everything is fine.
“I only realised after the deaths that all is not right.”
He added that alcohol abuse among some parents and amakhosana could also be a contributing factor.
Medical doctors and traditional leaders have called for stricter regulation of circumcision schools.
“There is a need to do things in such a way that the wrongdoers can be identified. If you have transgressed, you must be held liable.”
Ingoma Forum chairman Musa Thugwana confirmed that botched circumcisions were among the factors responsible for the fatalities.
“Mostly, it’s those (traditional surgeons) who did not attend our two-day training session.
“We need to have a database to register all traditional surgeons to prevent further incidents of botched circumcisions.”
King Mabhoko’s spokesman, Msebenzi Masombuka, said
: “We are busy with our investigations and will release our findings later.”