Independent On Line, South Africa, 22 July 2003.

Initiate deaths doubled under new laws

July 22 2003 at 03:39AM

Initiate deaths have risen more than 100 percent since laws were put in place two years ago to curb the deaths and injuries.

According to Daily Dispatch archive statistics, since 1998 a total of 129 initiates have died as a result of botched circumcisions in the province - 74 of these after November 2001, when the Application of Health Standards Act on Traditional Circumcision was promulgated.

The figures show 55 initiates died in the period from January 1998 until the Act was implemented.

A total of 25 initiates died in the June intake for circumcision in the province this year.

"We are very disappointed after all our efforts"

Sixteen had to have their penises amputated and 92 were admitted to hospitals.

Now the act on circumcision is being criticised as "technically flawed".

"The legislation has failed the acid test," said the Democratic Alliance spokesperson on health in the province, Athol Trollip.

"The biggest problem is that some boys are too young to undergo circumcision. That's why circumcisions are botched."

Problematic "circumcision hotspots" were in Qumbu, Mtsimbini, Ntshilini, Ngangelizwe, Libode and Ngqeleni, said Buffalo City Traditional Circumcision Association spokesperson Vuyani Sijako.

A "tragic season of circumstances"

In Buffalo City it was Scenery Park, Duncan Village and Mdantsane.

Sizwe Kupelo of the health department admitted the situation had gone from "bad to worse since December last year".

"Traditional leaders, communities and Xhosas have failed the custom," he said.

"This is not our responsibility as a department. We are only trying to help, we are not the custodians of tradition."

Kupelo said they spent R140 000 this year to train traditional surgeons, host roadshows and visit schools and traditional leaders.

"We also spent R200 000 on vehicle hire so that department officials could monitor initiation schools and traditional surgeons and nurses."

"We are very disappointed after all our efforts," said Kupelo.

Kupelo also blamed parents for not ensuring children were prepared for the rite.

The department is now analysing the situation and will work with all stakeholders to devise another strategy.

"We will also work with police to prosecute those traditional surgeons who don't comply with registration," he added.

PAC MPL Zingisa Mkabile labelled the circumcision fatalities as a "tragic season of circumstances".

He said the legislation of 2001 was never well-funded.

"There is only one person at head office monitoring provincial circumcision," he said.

There were no structures at local and district level to keep track of the situation.

Mkabile said the department was not "committed to implementing the Act".

"Instead of visiting the fly-by-night bomas MEC Goqwana should concentrate on implementing the bill properly," he added. - Sapa

(File prepared 22 July 2003)