Traditional leaders and authorities are on the hunt for a notorious illegal traditional surgeon as the numbers of deaths of initiates continues to rise in the Eastern Cape.Mshiyelwa Ndoda, known as Mtshayina, is believed to be on the run after provincial initiation monitoring teams found 63 initiates in Mgwenyane village in Libode, in the east of the province, who had been circumcised illegally.Of those, 61 were aged between nine and 17 years. It is illegal for any child under the age of 18 to undergo customary male initiation.Mgwenyane village is not far from Ndoda’s home in Zele village, Libode. Most of the initiates who have died this season come from the area. At least five of the seven, who were confirmed dead since the start of the winter initiation season two weeks ago, came from Libode.Cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa said the 63 initiates had been taken to a rescue centre. Two years ago Ndoda (69), who is an illegal and unregistered traditional surgeon (ingcibi), told City Press that he was unrepentant about circumcising young boys because he believed it was better to do so before they become sexually active. Xasa said what he found disturbing was that the rescued initiates, who had already been circumcised, did not want to tell anyone, including their parents and the village men, who had performed the procedure on them.Xasa said he had no doubt Ndoda was involved, but said he was being protected.“I have been informed that Mtshayina, despite being an illegal surgeon, continues to operate. He is circumcising boys up there in the mountains. We are going to discuss this matter. We want to see how we can better hunt for this man because I am told he is doing it in the mountains and nobody is able to access him where he is doing this,” Xasa said, adding that he was going to speak to community safety MEC Weziwe Tikana to help find Ndoda, treating the case as a priority.“The community is hiding his whereabouts, including parents – they are hiding it.” Xasa said he had discussed the matter with the western Pondoland king Ndluvuyezwe Ndamase under whose jurisdiction Libode falls.“The king said he has been sending messages and trying to summon Ndoda but all has been in vain and that, because of the terrain, even for him, it is quite difficult to access or even get to Mtshayina and the practice he is doing,” Xasa said. “So we must appeal to the police and see what can be done. Everybody has been trying to get to his home but people are hiding him. He seems to have a strong network of people who are able to tell when somebody is hunting for him.”"Somebody somewhere is misleading them"When City Press called Ndoda on Wednesday, a young man who identified himself as Ndoda’s son, Msawawa, answered his cellphone. Asked where Ndoda was, he said his father was “somewhere in the mountainous forests” and was “busy with initiates”. “He is not here. He has gone to the initiation school. He left his phone with me. He is with initiates at KwaZiphongo village, it’s one of the villages around here,” he said.“There are some boys who are going to be circumcised today so he is taking them to the initiation school to circumcise them.”Asked about Ndoda’s exact whereabouts, Msawawa become uneasy and dropped the call. When City Press called later the phone rang unanswered.Two years ago in an interview at his home in Zele, Ndoda vowed to continue circumcising underage boys, saying he had even circumcised his own sons when they were about 10 years old. He said by the time boys reach the government-prescribed age of 18, they are “already sexually active” and “may be infected with diseases”.Also known as MaChicken, for charging a chicken for his services, he prides himself on having circumcised thousands of young boys, mostly in western Pondoland.Ndoda operates in an area that includes the towns of Libode, Ngqeleni and Port St Johns, where most illegal initiation schools are found. But boys from as far as Lusikisiki and Mbizana come to Ndoda for circumcision and later return to their villages. In 2005, after six initiates died, Ndoda was convicted and given a three-year suspended sentence. In 2007 police arrested him again. He was sentenced again in 2009 and while serving a five-year jail term in Mthatha’s Wellington Prison, he boasted of circumcising seven prisoners with a Minora blade and using prison sheets to dress their wounds.“Hardly three days since my release from prison [in November 2011], boys came from as far as Qaukeni in Lusikisiki, Bizana, Flagstaff, Ntabankulu, Upington and even Johannesburg. When monitoring teams arrived in December, they found me here at home with a number of initiates. They did not find any initiates with problems,” Ndoda told City Press at the time.The month after his release, he claimed to have circumcised 200 boys and a further 300 the following winter.Ndoda was arrested again in early 2016 and in June was acquitted in the Libode Magistrates’ Court because of lack of evidence. He was accused of circumcising 84 underage boys, including an 11-year-old.Xasa said the major cause of initiate deaths was dehydration, because many refuse to drink water because they are told their wounds will heal faster. “In fact the picture we are picking up is that even before boys undergo initiation, they practise not drinking water. Somebody somewhere is misleading them,” he said.The other major cause of death, Xasa said, was assault.“Some of these boys are getting assaulted for a reason we don’t know,” he saidXasa said his department was shocked by the initiation death rate in Libode and said parents also needed to be held accountable because they knew what was happening but chose to protect the illegal surgeons. He said there was no way traditional leaders did not know who the perpetrators were. “This thing is running out of control and we cannot allow it. When there is law, we want the law to be implemented and we will do so,” he said.