EASTERN PROVINCE HERALD, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa,
Monday, 22 July 1996.

Govt White Paper on circumcision ritual


UMTATA - The Eastern Cape provincial government will next month release a White Paper on initiation rituals after four young Xhosa men died of septic wounds and dehydration after being circumcised last week.

A task team appointed by the government to investigate circumcision rituals said their work should not be seen as an attempt to undermine respected African traditions, reports Sapa.

Fifty-three youngsters from the Lusikisiki area were admitted to hospital last week after botched circumcision rituals.

The rural town of Lusikisiki in the former Transkei is alarmed by the deaths of the four - and has called an urgent meeting to prevent further fatalities, Bronwen Roberts reports.

Town mayor Dr Prince Mangcotywa said there had been a "crisis" in fatalities and infections of the boys.

Dr Mangcotywa said some would have to have their penises amputated.

He told Ecna that parents, health authorities, local government and traditional healers would meet early this week to find ways of ensuring the next group of initiates, in the December school holidays, would not be similarly affected.

He said some parents were blaming traditional healers and surgeons.

Dr Mangcotywa said the infections were likely to have been caused while the boys' wounds were being dressed and not during the circumcision procedure itself.

He said traditional nurses put new dressings on the penises every day and this was when dust and bugs often infected the wounds.

Traditional nurses sometimes used cloth or green leaves and string to dress the wounds.

He said while most boys fell ill because of infection, some suffered pneumonia and complications arising from poor nutrition.

One of those who died apparently did so when air mixed with blood in the boy's lungs after his fractured ribs were not treated properly.

Dr Mangcotywa said Lisikisiki had never had problems with circumcisions before and these only started last year, when two young initiates died.

He said it was probably because nurses were becoming careless.

He estimated that roughly 200 boys were circumcised this season, with most of them going to hospitals for the operation and only going to the bush for the final ceremony.

All boys wanted to be circumcised to prove their manhood, but only those who could get parental permission were going to hospital for the operation.

Provincial health department media officer Khulukile Bata said the government established a special unit last year that toured rural areas checking traditional circumcision procedures.

He said initiates hid away, which sometimes made it difficult for the unit to find them. - Ecna

COMMENT: Sapa - the South African Press Association
         Ecna - Eastern Cape News Agency
"White Paper" - under the Westminster system proposed legislation 
published for comment.
"traditional surgeons", "nurses" - polite speak for the untrained 
men and boys who perform the operations and tend the initiates. No 
women are traditionally allowed at the ceremonies and it is the 
custom for initiates to be attended by young boys who look after 
their food, run errands and dress the wounds. There may be an attempt 
here to obfusticate what actually took place and to shift blame away 
from the custom and those who implement it to the "nurses" who may be 
untrained minors. What is not explained is why one young man had 
fractured ribs and why the two deaths last year did not lead to 
stricter hygienic measures. Nor can the fact that a possible 25% of 
the initiates have had serious health problems be explained. Again 
the references to initiates hiding away and the possible failure of 
parents to allow boys to be circumcised at hospitals may only be part 
of the truth.

(File revised 21 December 2003)