Pretoria - Winter means that hundreds of boys and young men across the country go to circumcision schools in a rite of passage to manhood. Unfortunately, not all of them make it back home – some succumb to the harsh weather, illness or complications arising from their wounds.
Four initiates have died and one is fighting for his life in hospital.
According to the Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela, three of them died in Lesley, Mpumalanga, of pneumonia and diabetes complications.
The fourth, a 17-year-old, died of dehydration and hunger at an illegal initiation school in the Eastern Cape, while his friend was admitted to hospital.
“The two were on a holiday visit and they were pressured by a group of young people to go to the initiation school. One died and the other is fighting for his life in hospital,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
He said police were investigating and knew the illegal surgeon.
Police are also investigating the deaths of 32 young men in Mpumalanga last year.
The National Prosecuting Authority said last week that 23 people would be prosecuted for the deaths of youngsters at seven initiation schools in Kwaggafontein, KwaMhlanga, Verena, Delmas, Siyabuswa, Belfast, and Middelburg.
In an attempt to curb the number of deaths, the Departments of Health and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs are clamping down on illegal schools and providing trained surgeons and medical support for the legal schools.
“Initiation is an important rite of passage into adulthood,” Motsoaledi said.
“Unfortunately, it has been subject to abuse, leading to injuries and death.
“The deaths have been mostly in three provinces – Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.
“We have now decided that there should be health screenings for all initiates so that we can see what conditions the young men have. Things like asthma, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. If they are not screened for these diseases death will inevitably happen.”
The department would also provide the registered schools with circumcision and medical kits, including swabs and bandages.
A general practitioner who himself had been circumcised in the traditional manner would assist the traditional surgeons in performing the procedures and with caring for the initiates afterwards.
“The general practitioners will be people of the same culture because we do not want to interfere with issues of confidentiality. No money will be given to a traditional healer or a school. All the surgeons will be paid by the state,” Motsoaledi said.
For the medical assistance and roadshows to educate communities about the schools, the Department of Health would allocate R180 million, to be divided equally among the provinces. The cash would come from the R385m allocated for the department’s medical male circumcision programme.
Motsoaledi said it was expected that at least 20 000 young men would attend the winter and summer schools. Limpopo and Mpumalanga each have eight surgeons, while the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape has five.
Motsoaledi said most of the traditional healers were receptive to the ideas, but others needed convincing.
“No money will be given to a traditional healer or a school. The money will be available from the department and will pay for the needs. In Limpopo, there were 22 325 circumcisions in July and August last year and that was because the traditional surgeons received help from the professionals.”