6 years, 413 lives, 190 penises, 5?000 in hospital

2013-07-14 14:01

No one can tell how many boys die during initiations across the country, because not all provincial departments keep track.

The Eastern Cape health department, however, has been tallying the grim death toll for the past six and a half years. In that time, 413 initiates have died, about 190 have lost their penises and nearly 5?000 have been admitted to hospital.

And only one person, since 2006, has been convicted for causing the death of any initiate, according to Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo.

Mtshiyelwa Ndoda, notoriously known as “Mr Chicken” for the payment he received from parents, was arrested in 2010 in connection with 20 deaths of initiates from the Pondoland area.

He was convicted on charges of illegal circumcisions last year and sentenced to a reported five years in prison.

This year has seen four criminal cases opened in connection with injuries related to circumcision, three of them in the Nyandeni area near Libode. The numbers provided by the department show that between 2006 and this year, 355?120 initiates have been through circumcision rituals.

But not all departments keep such detailed figures.

The Limpopo provincial department of cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs (COGHSTA) recorded 18 initiate deaths since 2008. But there have been no arrests.

“The deaths are not necessarily due to the circumcision so that could be the reason why there have been no arrests,” said Abie Mokoena, the Limpopo COGHSTA spokesperson.

In Mpumalanga, the official number of deaths this year is 30, but Cope MPL Zale Madonsela told the provincial legislature that the number could be as high as 36.

Simphiwe Kunene, the Mpumalanga COGHSTA spokesperson, said: “When initiates die, the numbers aren’t necessarily reported to us. That’s why we don’t have the number of deaths for the past 10 years. At times, these deaths are directly reported to the traditional leaders who deal with them in a cultural way.”

Gauteng health spokesperson Simon Zwane said the province has only had one reported incident in the past 10 years.

“The police notified us of this incident but were not sure which province to allocate the case to, as this incident happened on the border between Gauteng and Mpumalanga,” he said.

Spokespersons for Gauteng, Western Cape and Northern Cape said they work closely with traditional leaders and medical practitioners.

“The initiates first need their parents’ permission and then they undergo medical examinations to ensure they don’t have any underlying illnesses which could make them susceptible to infection,” Zwane said.

Western Cape, which has not had any reported deaths in the past 10 years, said it ensures all initiates survive by ensuring all sites are linked to a local health facility.

“A medical doctor is on hand to ensure that medical emergencies are attended to rapidly,” said Daniel Johnson of the Western Cape department of cultural affairs and sport.

In KwaZulu-Natal, traditional circumcision is not part of the culture. COGHSTA spokesperson in the province Lennox Mabaso said most circumcisions take place under the care of medical professionals.

Though there are a number of areas on the border with Eastern Cape where traditional circumcision is practised, Mabaso said the department had not been informed of any related deaths.

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