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Mthaha - Ten initiates have died in the Eastern Cape since the beginning of the winter initiation season, the provincial health department said on Monday.
“The latest death occurred in the early hours of this morning in Ncise village in Mthatha,” spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said.
Another boy died over the weekend near Cathcart, with four other deaths previously recorded in the Mthatha area, one in the Tsolo area, and the remaining three occurring in Libode, in the Ngqeleni area.
Kupelo said the department was extremely concerned, given the number of lives already lost.
“We have a total of 49 admissions in various hospitals in the Transkei and that is disrupting our day-to-day operations. Nurses and doctors have to abandon other patients and focus on the initiates,” he said.
“This is a man-made crisis which is not supposed to be happening.”
The department was setting aside R20 million to hire 27 additional 4x4s for traditional leaders to monitor initiations and to hire private doctors who would be able to offer medical assistance.
Kupelo said people driven by greed were running illegal schools with no regard for the initiate's safety or government efforts to reduce initiate deaths.
“A death in our view must be treated as murder as there are allegations that these boys are dying unnecessarily from dehydration, assault and infection,” he said.
“These perpetrators think they have a licence to kill. Normal court processes are struck off the roll because parents don't attend proceedings.”
Kupelo suggested a system similar to that used during the 2010
World Cup, where special courts were established to deal with crimes associated with the tournament.
Parents had to also take responsibility, after the father of an initiate refused to allow the department to take their son for treatment, after the boy was identified as being weak and needing medical attention.
“The father of the deceased refused, and a day later health services were requested to collect a corpse,” Kupelo said.
“That parent should be investigated and brought to book.”
The father at the time said his family did not need the health department to intervene in the traditional affairs of his family.
The boy was at a legitimate initiation school around Tadase village.
“From 2001, we've had over 500 boys dead dying in the bush. This can't be allowed to continue,” Kupelo said.
The deaths of initiates did not suggest a ritual in crisis but rather a custom that had been hijacked by people who had no clue how to deal with it.
“They are greedy. They want to make money. They want to preside over those rituals where traditional beers are served on a particular day,” Kupelo said.
“They don't care about life and they don't care what they are doing... courts need to impose harsher sentences.”