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Wed Sep 17 15:34:12 SAST 2014

'It's criminal'

POPPY LOUW and SIPHO MASOMBUKA | 08 July, 2013 00:31
A boy at an initiation school in Eastern Cape. File photo
Image by: GALLO IMAGES

Criminal and barbaric.

This is what Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi called hundreds of "mushrooming" illegal initiation schools.

Motsoaledi yesterday reacted in fury after 30 young initiates in Eastern Cape died in botched circumcisions. The youngest was 13.

About 300 others were badly injured in circumcisions.

Ten boys were rescued from an illegal initiation school in Mbizana, in Pondoland, Eastern Cape, yesterday. They were admitted to the Mbizana Hospital, all in a critical condition.

Last month, 29 initiates died in Mpumalanga.

Eastern Cape health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said some of the 293 initiates had lost the tip of their penis, though their foreskin was intact.

Kupelo said they had been castrated, not circumcised.

"Post mortems point to severe renal failure and pneumonia. This cannot continue," he said.

Some of the boys' penises resembled "burnt-out sausages", he said, adding that some of them had gangrenous and infected penises, and others had lost their genitals entirely.

Motsoaledi said there had been an "explosion" of illegal initiation schools .

"The mushrooming of initiation schools is seen every single day in Eastern Cape. Hooligans . tsotsis take advantage and prey on this custom," Motsoaledi said.

"It has turned into something criminal and no longer has anything to do with culture. Young lives are being destroyed."

Motsoaledi, who is kept updated on a daily basis by Nkululeko Nxesi, a social activist for the Monitoring Operation, described how boys were "kidnapped and kept against their will".

"Some parents are blackmailed into paying for their children's safety. Because of the belief that children must be left at these initiation schools, parents do not report them missing to the police in fear of going against tradition."

The ANC last night called on the government to act, saying there has never been a greater urgency to act than now.

"The authorities can no longer pay lip service to dealing with this disaster that afflicts our nation during the traditional initiation season," said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

Nxesi said the there is no tradition of initiation in Pondoland, where 28 of the 30 boys died.

He said parents were forced into paying R4000 to ensure their child's safety.

"Some illegal traditional surgeons can make as much as R500000 a season."

However, some parents are happy to assist illegal schools.

The mother of an under-aged victim in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, lied to an illegal initiation school about her son's age .

"The 16-year-old boy and his mother used his brother's name and ID book to get him into the school. The legislation allows only boys of 18 and above," Nxesi said.

Nxesi, who rescued the 10 Pondoland initiates yesterday, said the lack of aftercare, and negligent "surgeons" led to the death of initiates.

"Just two weeks before the official start of the winter season, we rescued 560 uncircumcised boys. All the traditional surgeons they were with were drunk," he said.

"We are not fighting the practice but trying to save the boys. If it were not for this initiative we would be looking at more than 1000 deaths by now."

The Monitoring Operation has trained over 500 traditional surgeons at the 200 registered initiation schools in Eastern Cape.

Motsoaledi said his department had opened special treatment centres and wards at hospitals in the province to treat the "influx" of patients.

It has also allocated 38 bakkies, and drivers, food packs, medical support through district medical officers, and equipment to the 35 monitoring teams across the province.

Kupelo said the department had been put under enormous pressure but had no staff to deal with the influx of initiates.

"The MEC [Sicelo Gqobana] is now in consultation with the local government and traditional affairs MEC for a report that will be submitted to the premier [Noxolo Kiviet] with serious recommendations for urgent interventions," he said.

The national Health Department this year joined forces with the House of Traditional Leaders, and the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs, to get illegal initiation schools closed and young lives saved.

The departments were joined by members of traditional initiation groups and of non-government organisations, and by representatives of municipalities.

Mpumalanga health's Ronnie Masilela said his department's interventions through the ingoma (initiation) forum was bearing fruit - no injuries or deaths had been reported since the deaths of the 29 initiates last month.

"The forum is made up of department [of health] officials and traditional leaders.

"This is to ensure that whoever is negligent or causes someone to die is reported to the police."

Masilela said that the deaths were now being dealt with by the police and dockets had been sent to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

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Wed Sep 17 15:34:12 SAST 2014 ::