Doctors, nurses and water to be sent to initiation schools in Eastern Cape

'One death is one too many,' says health department

10 December 2019 - 14:25 By Mpumzi Zuzile
A traditional nurse leads a group of initiates back to their village. Many initiates die of thirst because they are under the false impression that their wounds will heal faster if they don't drink water.
A traditional nurse leads a group of initiates back to their village. Many initiates die of thirst because they are under the false impression that their wounds will heal faster if they don't drink water.
Image: LULAMILE FENI

Alarmed by the deaths of 18 initiates this summer season, Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba has directed all qualified medical officials stationed in Bhisho to go to initiation schools to assess the conditions of initiates.

Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said dehydration had been identified as the main cause of death in most cases - meaning that the initiates are being deprived of water.

“This belief - that if initiates are not given water their wounds will heal faster - could not be further from the truth. Some would-be initiates even stop taking water before they undergo the rite because of being misinformed that this would help them heal faster. They die from dehydration just days after being circumcised,” he said.

Kupelo said the department would donate water to initiation schools.

He said the visits by the health professionals to circumcision schools will help prevent further unnecessary deaths because those who might be in need of medical help will immediately get it.

“While we understand the cultural sensitivities around having medical doctors and nurses at traditional initiation schools, our priority is to ensure these would-be men return home healthy and not in coffins,” he said.

“One death is one too many. We also want to prevent a situation where those who might be victims of botched circumcisions might need penile amputations because medical assistance is sought very late.

“We want to assure people that the presence of our doctors and nurses will not in any way compromise the sacred traditional rite of passage to manhood, as traditional leaders and Cogta, the custodians of the age-old rite, will be present throughout our visits,” said Gomba.

She said the department had allocated more than R20m for additional 4x4 vehicles and the supply of medical essentials and water.

Gomba called for the immediate arrest of traditional surgeons and nurses responsible for the deaths of the 18 initiates. She urged communities to stop hiding illegal circumcision schools.

Dr Mbuyiselo Madiba, head of urology at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, on Monday called for traditional circumcision in the Eastern Cape to be banned for a year and replaced with medical circumcision.

Provincial health department statistics reveal the following:

  • in the 2018 summer season, 35,949 boys underwent the rite of passage, with 23 deaths being reported;
  • in the 2018 winter season, 21 boys died - 16 from Mpondoland; and
  • in the 2019 winter season, 17 boys died - 14 from Mpondoland.

According to the provincial Cogta department, 500 boys have died at initiation schools in the past five years. During that time, 191 people have been arrested and fewer than 75 cases have been brought before court, leading to only 14 convictions.

For help on any traditional initiation-related matters, call 040 608 7404 or 082 302 7760.


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