DAILY DISPATCH, East London, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, Monday, 26 June 2006.

Circumcision rite: 6 die, 50 rescued in first week

Apart from deaths is ongoing possibility of initiates contracting HIV, says Health Department


Traditional Affairs Reporter

SIX initiates have died and more than 50 have been rescued from illegal initiation schools in the Transkei.

All the deaths happened during the first week of the start of the circumcision period in the Eastern Cape.

Five were under 18 years of age – although the circumcision laws ban the initiation of boys under that age. The five were aged 13, 14, and 17 years old.

The laws also demand compulsory screening of would-be initiates before they undergo the traditional ritual of passage to manhood.

According to Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo, there were 13 young boys aged 13 who were found to have been circumcised in the area around Libode alone.

Pondoland had – despite robust community awareness programmes by police, the Health Department and traditional leaders – continued to be the problematic area in the province.

“It is a sad situation and of great concern when young boys are dying like flies,” said Kupelo.

The deaths were reported in Ntabankulu, Flagstaff, Ngqeleni and Nyandeni village where the Western Pondoland Great Place is situated. The sixth death was reported yesterday afternoon at Sibangweni near Libode yesterday.

In relation to the five circumcision deaths, Kupelo said five traditional surgeons had been arrested and police were hunting for two more suspects.

Kupelo said all the six dead initiates had apparently undergone circumcision without their parents’ consent and knowledge, and had therefore not undergone the compulsory pre-circumcision medical examination demanded by the Act.

“But the problem is not only caused by boys who attend initiation without their parents’ consent, but the bigger problem lies with the people who conduct the circumcisions – iingcibi. I think that’s where we need to pull the plug on this,” said Kupelo.

He said that traditional surgeons were also making the respected African rite a laughing stock and were charged a chicken for performing the procedure.

“One of the things that kills these boys is that they walk about 100km to the home of iingcibi, are circumcised and walk back home to their respective village bleeding all the way,” said Kupelo.

“Our worry is that apart from dying, there is a high possibility that the boys will end up contracting HIV,” said Kupelo.

He said bogus traditional surgeons had received no training. They take a spear or a knife and move down the queue, cutting the first boy to the last without sterilising or washing the instrument.

“If the first has HIV, the rest will be infected ... people don’t realise those consequences,” he said.

Of 54 initiates rescued from illegal circumcision schools, 24 were from Mkhankatho near Libode. Thirty initiates were rescued from an initiation school in Qumbu with gangrenous and septic circumcision wounds, Kupelo said.

There were 400 officials on standby to monitor the initiation season around Transkei.

Although there had as yet been no deaths reported in the greater East London area, police had conducted workshops to spread awareness of the law.

Police spokesperson Captain Errol Francis said that the workshop came after it was noticed that a number of people were contravening the law.

Now the community, Health Department and police have entered into an agreement to assist each other for the sake of the rite.

Francis said this exercise is to be spread across Buffalo City Municipal area. — Additional reporting by Sapa

(File created 26 June 2006)