British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), London, Wednesday, 26 June 2002.

South African youths die during rituals

Rituals mark the transition to manhood

Five teenage boys have died and 51 others have been injured during initiation rituals in South Africa.

Police found the youths when a boy died on his way to hospital on Monday, after rituals involving circumcision and beatings.

Four instructors have been arrested and are being questioned by police.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Johannesburg says that although the South African authorities have tried to regulate initiation schools to avoid such incidents, some provinces keep practising the rituals.

In this latest incident, the boys, aged between 13 and 18, had been attending several so-called "bush schools", including one outside the towship of Ratanda, in the Heidelberg hills, near Johannesburg.

Police say the initiates, of the Sotho and Xhosa ethnic groups, were exposed naked to sub-freezing temperatures, and that many had circumcision-related infections and bruised backs.

The survivors are now being treated in hospital. Eighteen of them are in a critical condition.

"They have been diagnosed with pneumonia, lung infections, bronchitis," police spokeswoman Anneline Prinsloo said.

The chief of emergency services in Heidelberg, Terrance Niemach, was critical.

"They should not be circumcised under these conditions and come out here in this cold," he said.

Lack of hygiene

The boys were apparently provided with no shelter, little water and no toilet facilities.

One local newspaper quotes one of the instructors as saying the ceremonies were intended to turn the boys into strong men.

In South Africa, the operations are usually performed in June and December, during school holidays.

Young men in many African societies traditionally undergo training involving rituals and circumcision to mark the transition to manhood.

They rejoin society with a man's status once their wounds have healed.

Our correspondent says that while some traditional leaders have accepted new regulations to make the rituals safer, others have resisted and accused the government of interfering in cultural affairs.

(File prepared 29 June 2002)