Take boys home, parents urged

Johannesburg - The Gauteng health department is urging parents in local communities to get youths at initiation schools in the rugged hills around Heidelberg to come home.

Spokesperson Simon Zwane said the department and local authorities considered the further stay of initiates at the schools to be a health risk.

Zwane was commenting after the death of a sixth initiate on Monday.

Papa Mbovane (19) reportedly died of internal injuries at Heidelberg Hospital after he had been returned to an initiation school by his family on Wednesday last week. He had been removed from the school the day before.

"The death of this boy should not have occurred. We have now requested the local authority to speak to the community and the parents of children still undergoing initiation to please allow the children to go home. We regard their continued stay there a health risk," Zwane said.

He added that Sedibeng district mayor, Peter Skosana, was already pressing communities in his area on the issue.

Skosana had also asked police to assist parents in bringing their children home, Zwane said.

East Rand police spokesperson Superintendent Andy Pieke on Tuesday said two cases of abduction in relation to children undergoing initiation had been opened at Orange Farm and were being investigated. He said parents had alleged their children were at the schools without their permission.

15 schools shut down

Gauteng MEC Gwen Ramokgopa said on Monday she would wait for a report from health officials before closing down any further initiation schools in the Heidelberg area, where five boys died and more than 30 injured after botched initiations last week.

Ramokgopa has closed down three schools, and six people, including instructors and traditional healers have been arrested in connection with the deaths and assault of initiates.

She said on Monday that officials from her department were inspecting other schools in the area and conditions at them before she would take any further action.

In Limpopo province, officials closed down six more illegal circumcision schools, bringing to 15 the number shut down in recent days, SABC radio reported.

The MEC in the premier's office, Catherine Mabuza, accompanied police when they acted against the schools in the Waterberg area.

Fify-nine initiates were taken to the Mokopane hospital. Some of the boys had septic wounds and had to be put on drips.

In the Eastern Cape, another mutilated initiation candidate was admitted to the Umtata General Hospital on Tuesday, bringing the total number admitted since the weekend to 13.

The hospital's acting chief medical superintendent, Dr Zola Dabula, said the condition of all the post-circumcision initiation candidates was stable.

Gangrenous penis

Dabula said they were suffering from minor genital infections - the result of unhygienic practices - and were being kept in a holding ward.

Four other youths, who have been in hospital for about a week, were being kept in a separate ward.

Their condition was stable but more serious, Dabula said. Three of them were suffering from acute dehydration while the fourth had lost his penis after it fell off due to gangrene.

Dabula said that boys whose penises fall off after circumcision had to live with a urinary catheter and a bag for about a year before penile reconstructive surgery could be done.

Speaking of the boys' life after surgery, Dabula said: "It's not a normal life as such - they can urinate but they are compromised in their sexual activity."

The Eastern Cape government last year passed legislation to regulate circumcision practices, making initiation school surgeons liable to six to 10 year prison sentences if they broke the law.

The province also launched an education and awareness programme aimed at encouraging people to have their circumcision done in hospitals.

"I must say that previously we had very serious problems with circumcision in this area. Last year December we lost two patients. But right now we haven't lost anyone. I give credit to our educational process.


"We have created a system whereby people who would like to be circumcised medically come over here. We circumcise them and thereafter they go and finish their initiation into manhood in the bushes," Dabula said.

But Dabula also said that some initiation schools today were corrupt and cruel places that were in no way representative of African traditions.

"What use to happen before is that, firstly, the surgeon who was chosen by the family was an experienced person who had undergone supervisory work.

"The second thing... is that experienced people looked after the wound. Those people were called amakhankatha. Amakhankatha today are not experienced.

"The problem with today's schools is that they are more than anything a place of vengeance. People who got beaten to a pulp in their day are there to inflict upon others the treatment they got," Dabula said.

(File revised 28 July 2008)