NEWS 24, South Africa, Tuesday, 29 December 2003.

Circumcision drive 'going well'

Umtata - The Eastern Cape provincial health department says the R1m allocated to awareness-raising programmes on the problems of traditional circumcision practices has been well spent.

"The programme has worked well and a lot of unnecessary incidents have been avoided", said the department's Sizwe Kupelo.

He said that since the department had started the programme in May the public had been helping to identify illegal operations, and 105 traditional surgeons had been arrested.

In the Pondoland area, 141 initiates had been "rescued" when the MEC closed illegal schools in the region.

He said the programme was focused not only on traditional surgeons (ingcibi), but also on "broader circumcision issues and the possible cholera outbreaks in the province".

"We targeted all stakeholders to promote prevention, and engaged other services."

He said the department ran adverts in the local media and engaged non-governmental organisations to facilitate education through plays, and visited traditional authorities.

The department held a "very successful" five-day awareness programme with live outside broadcasts in five towns in the province, said Kupelo.

Some are still sceptical

"Even today, the public still informs us about illegal activities".

The money was also used to build temporary structures for initiates from closed-down schools.

Kupelo said new projects in the pipeline included putting up billboards around the province and conducting more workshops for the iingcibi.

Despite departmental claims, other stakeholders in the region are less certain of the programme's success.

The chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, said he was aware of the efforts made by the department, but felt it was too soon to judge whether the situation had improved.

"With regard to training of traditional surgeons I can say they have succeeded, but otherwise I think it is too early to judge whether the programme has had positive spin-offs", he said.

"The programme has not sunk in to people yet - maybe next year in December the results will be more visible."

'Stamp out the fly-by-nights'

Pan Africanist Congress spokesperson Zingisa Mkabile said the department needed to set up a permanent structure with co-ordinators at district level.

"My gut feeling is that the situation has not changed much. (They should) stop treating this matter as a seasonal thing", said Mkabile.

The Democratic Alliance's Eddie Trollip said R1m was not a lot of money to spend in trying to save someone's life.

He urged the department to "work with traditional communities and all stakeholders to stamp out fly-by-night iingcibi".

"It is a shame that young men are dying in this traditional rite of passage, whereas this was not the case previously", said Trollip.

(File created 29 December 2003)