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Eight initiates have died in the Eastern Cape since the start of the initiation season two months ago, the provincial health department said on Tuesday.
"This is a decrease in the number of deaths at the same time last year when 15 initiates died," department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said.
"And only six of the eight died due to circumcision-related problems. One of the other two boys was murdered, while the other died in a fire at his school."
The deaths were reported in the Umtata, Queenstown and Port Elizabeth areas.
Kupelo said the department would work together with traditional leaders to ensure that no initiates were killed during the initiation period this year.
"We hope that this year we are going to have a zero death rate. We have embarked on a massive awareness campaign, we are going to review strategies and work with traditional leaders."
He added that many people had heeded the department's call last year to send children to legitimate initiation schools, thereby reducing the number of deaths.
However, he said there were still some boys who were circumcised by men pretending to be traditional leaders.
"But we have managed to arrest three bogus traditional leaders who circumcised boys in December. They spent Christmas and New Year's behind bars and will appear in court at the end of January.
"We take this seriously and will not tolerate people taking innocent lives in the name of the custom," said Kupelo.
He said the department recognised and respected the custom, but would stop people who were trying to make money out of it.
There was also the possibility of boys contracting HIV/Aids at bogus initiation schools.
"You get these fly-by-night schools who sometimes call boys in the village and circumcise about 50 without cleaning the instrument," said Kupelo.
"If the first boy has HIV/Aids the rest will get it."
Kupelo said more then 400 monitors were deployed to schools to ensure that the initiation process was handled properly.
This after problems were experienced when the "carers" or people who nursed the boys after initiation did not perform their jobs properly.
Some boys were abused, while others who experienced complications after initiation were not taken to hospital on time.
Kupelo said a review process would begin within the next few months to work on ways to prevent these problems and to ensure that there were no deaths at initiation schools in the province this year. - Sapa