Initiates pose on a field in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape December 15, 2013. Every year, thousands of youths leave their parents to spend weeks in the care of traditional leaders at an initiation school where they are circumcised, a rite of passage commonly referred to as "Ukwaluka" or "going to the mountain". Former South African President Mandela, who died on December 5 aged 95, will be buried in his family homestead in Qunu on Sunday after a state funeral. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SOCIETY)

Cape Town - For the first time the Eastern Cape Department of Health has had to set up field hospitals for initiates to relieve pressure at the province’s established hospitals.

The provincial department of health’s Sizwe Kupelo said it’s the first time their hospitals have had a huge influx of initiates.

“It’s the first time we are faced with such a crisis, we even had to establish special hospitals to deal with the number of initiates we have to treat, because the numbers keep going up,” said Kupelo.

He said the field hospitals are tents equipped with essential components and stretchers to provide intravenous fluids, antibiotics and wound care.

According to Kupelo, the latest death in Libode on Monday night brings the toll to 19 this season.

This winter season’s circumcision deaths have traditional leaders from the Western Cape offering their help.

Traditional surgeon Sikelela Zokufa said deaths of initiates in the Eastern Cape are the result of surgeons and traditional nurses not providing proper care.

“They are still using the old traditional ways of doing things and not considering that times have changed.

“I’m pleading with government to send some of us to the Eastern Cape to train the people there for one season.

“I promise there’ll be a huge difference,” said Zokufa.

Langa Heritage Foundation’s Alfred Magwaca said they have been thinking of ways to communicate with their fellow traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape.

Magwaca said: “I would like the Eastern Cape government to invite us to their province to show them how we do our tradition this side. No one ever dies.

“A lot of deaths are not caused by our tradition but by malnutrition and ill treatment of initiates by traditional nurses.”

Magwaca said in the Western Cape traditional nurses undergo intensive training, and even a first aid course, to help them deal with situations they may face in the bush.

The Eastern Cape Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ Mamnkeli Ngam said it has done a lot as “a government to try to stop and end initiate deaths”.

“We have continuously given advice to monitoring teams visiting the schools. We even established a rescue centre where sick initiates are taken for treatment. We are asking parents to lead and not depend on traditional nurses to do it on their own,” said Ngam.

He said the department was also working with the police to arrest people who have been assaulting initiates.

Cape Argus