File photo: Every year some initiates die from botched circumcisions and theres disagreement over who should be responsible for overseeing this coming-of-age ritual.

Johannesburg - The deaths of young initiates at traditional initiation schools has been neglected for too long, the SA National Aids Council (Sanac) men's section said on Thursday.

“The proud heritage of an age-old African practice is being undermined by the continuous unnecessary loss of lives of young boys,” Sanac said in a statement.

“(This is) particularly in an era where there are readily available medical technologies that allow for safe circumcisions with minimal side-effects, let alone cause of deaths.”

The number of boys who had died in initiation schools in Mpumalanga rose to 30 on Thursday, Mpumalanga health department spokesman Ronnie Masilela said.

Though issues surrounding culture remain sensitive, they could not be at the expense of the avoidable deaths of innocent boys, the council said.

On Monday, Mpumalanga police said 27 boys had died in initiation schools in the past two weeks. At the time Colonel Leonard Hlathi said 26 of the deaths were being investigated as murder cases and one as an inquest.

Police said there had been six deaths related to initiation schools in Limpopo.

Sanac called on government, traditional leaders, and parents to take a stand to put an end to the murders of boys in the name of a cultural practice.

It bemoaned a statement by Mpumalanga health MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini, who reportedly said she could not personally get involved in the matter because she was a woman.

“To assert that as an MEC her hands are tied in matters related to culture - even when this includes death and exposure to danger of young men that are under her care, constitutionally, and in terms of the law - is a dereliction of duty on her part.”

Sanac called for the immediate suspension of all the affected initiation schools in Mpumalanga, and for a comprehensive investigation into the causes of the deaths. - Sapa