Initiates pose as they walk 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)

Initiation season across South Africa is in full swing, with two fatalities already reported in Mpumalanga.

The first initiate died at an initiation school in Emalahleni, while the other died in Verena, according to House of Traditional Leaders chairman Kgoshi Mathupa Mokoena.

The tragic incidents occurred despite most provincial governments insisting all initiates undergo medical screening for TB, HIV and diabetes before going to traditional circumcision schools.

It is estimated that at least 100 initiates will die this winter if doctors, politicians and traditional leaders do not work together with government to protect thousands of boys from the worst outcomes: penile amputations, even death.

And as expected, most attention will be on the Eastern Cape, which was responsible for the deaths of at least 28 boys during June and July last year.

Since 2012 there have been at least 153 fatalities countrywide, largely due to botched circumcisions exacerbated by negligence and assault. Many more boys have been injured - 1 865 between 2008 and 2012.

But government is hoping to avoid similar figures. Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Des van Rooyen recently said his department was implementing several interventions to protect young initiates following the deaths of 101 boys in 2015.

The department said 44 initiates died during the 2015 summer initiation season and 57 lost their lives in winter, with the bulk of deaths (40) recorded in the Eastern Cape.

Two weeks after traditional initiation schools across the country declared their 2016 season in full swing, the annual event has already claimed two lives - and both were recently buried.

Initiation season across all nine provinces is now in full swing after some 350 initiation schools in Limpopo opened their doors on Friday.

The chairman of the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders, Kgosi Malesela Dikgale, said the current intake would end on July 18.

Dikgale said initiates had been encouraged to take chronic medication to initiation schools to avoid complications and deaths.

“Initiates are expected to have their medical reports about their health status on enrolment,” he said.

Nearly 15 000 initiates enrolled in initiation schools around Limpopo last year, with two deaths.

Traditional initiation ceremonies have resulted in 1 000 penile amputations over the past decade, according to the department.

Besides those who lost their lives, many other initiates were admitted to hospitals after they suffered gangrene and botched circumcisions.

Van Rooyen said the department would work closely with the justice cluster to ensure that people who kidnapped young men, those who opened schools for commercialisation and those who opened illegal initiation schools were dealt with.

National Initiation Task Team chairman Inkosi Sipho Mahlangu, said rescue centres would be established in the provinces, giving much attention to the Eastern Cape.

Male initiation is a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood for some ethnic groups in South Africa. Ritual male initiation includes circumcision and the initiates spend about a month or longer in seclusion in the bush.

Initiation is deemed a necessary rite of passage marking a developmental phase for boys to adulthood among the amaXhosa, Bapedi, Basotho, Batswana, amaNdebele, VhaVenda, VaTsonga and amaSwazi ethnic groups.

The initiation process is typically run by the family, with the boy’s father directing proceedings.

Sunday Independent