Initiation: ‘More boys could die’

2013-05-26 10:00

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Doctor says health department not in control of initiation schools

Hypothermia, haemorrhage and “unnatural causes” are listed as the causes of death for 28 young men who have died at initiation schools in Mpumalanga this month.

The province’s health MEC, Candith Mashego-Dlamini, revealed the postmortem results at a meeting with amaNdebele traditional leaders in Mpumalanga’s KwaMhlanga district on Friday.

Mashego-Dlamini said most of the initiates who died were at bogus schools that were not authorised by King Mabhoko III of the amaNdebele.

All authorised schools in the province are staffed by traditional surgeons who have been trained by the department of health and all initiates who attend these have had medical checkups.

The young men who died were at initiation schools in KwaMhlanga, Verena, Siyabuswa, Belfast, Kwaggafontein and Middelburg. This year’s initiation season in the province started on May 7.

Mashego-Dlamini said that the “unnatural causes” listed on some boys’ death certificates meant something wrong happened at the schools in question.

She promised leaders she would not interfere with cultural practices by closing down schools.

“You must close ranks. People who want to stop this tradition go there with cellphones and take information to the media. There are helicopters flying over the schools to take photos. That’s not right.”

She told leaders at the meeting that her department had now dispatched medical teams to all schools to screen initiates and train traditional surgeons.

The department would in future keep a database of trained traditional surgeons so only they could be employed during the province’s initiation season, which takes place every four years.

But a general practitioner in Mpumalanga, who did not want to be named, said the postmortem results suggested the department had not been in control of the schools.

The doctor told City Press: “All these reasons (on the death certificates) mean that the boys must be taken to a safe place to avoid more deaths.

“You can screen somebody and find him medically fit, but if you then leave him naked where it’s 3°C he will die of hypothermia. I’m afraid there could be more deaths.”

The leaders at Friday’s meeting asked Mashego-Dlamini to establish a funded Ingoma Unit for traditional surgeons and suggested there should be a demarcated place where the ritual happened every four years.

The MEC asked them to take their proposals to the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

There have also been deaths in Limpopo during this initiation season, bringing the national death toll to 33.

This has prompted Mlibo Qoboshiyane, the Eastern Cape’s local government and traditional affairs MEC, plans to visit initiation schools in Mbizana as the notorious and often deadly initiation season starts.

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