IOL.COM, South Africa, Friday, 19 December 2003.

Boys lose penises after botched circumcisions

Five youths have had their penises amputated after botched circumcisions in the Eastern Cape since the beginning of November, the provincial health department said on Friday.

Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said four of the amputations were performed at a hospital in Lusikisiki in Pondoland, and the fifth in the Hewu area near Queenstown.

The youths were victims of traditional surgeons running illegal circumcision schools, which the department is fighting to eliminate.

In terms of provincial legislation a traditional surgeon or incibi must register with the department. Individual schools must also be registered.

'The youths were victims of traditional surgeons'

Kupelo said the total number of incibi and traditional nurses arrested for failing to comply with the act stands at 22 for this circumcision season.

One surgeon was currently appearing in the Burgersdorp magistrate's court.

"Some of them are also facing possible charges of culpable homicide," he said.

The number of deaths had risen to 12 with three more over the weekend in the Whittlesea area. Though those three had attended different schools, it was believed they were all circumcised by one surgeon, who had been arrested.

A total of 221 youths had been "rescued" from illegal schools, of whom 81 were admitted to hospital, where they were being housed in temporary structures.

'The number of deaths had risen to 12'

"We believe that if we did not adopt this pro-active approach, we would have more deaths than we have now," Kupelo said.

Commenting on a claim by one traditional leader that youths who did not complete the full ritual at a school could not graduate as men and faced ostracism, he said that as far as the department was concerned, this was not the case.

"I think they become men because they are circumcised, that thing (foreskin) has been removed," he said.

"There are parents who are taking their kids to hospital so that it can be done the Western way. No one has ever disputed that they are men."

These youngsters went on to a school after the operation, he said.

The traditional leaders who were custodians of the ritual had to understand that they needed to make sure it was done properly, and restore its dignity.

"We don't want to interfere with the ritual part of it, but if these boys are dying, if they end up in our hospitals, let's adopt the pro-active approach," he said. - Sapa

(File prepared 20 December 2003)