Initiation death toll climbs to 7

A traditional surgeon is on the run and another was arrested this week for allegedly illegally circumcising underage boys in Lusikisiki.

The death toll in the Eastern Cape’s summer initiation season, which began two weeks ago, had risen to seven by yesterday afternoon.

Simcelile Salina (38) was arrested on Tuesday after allegedly illegally circumcising seven underage boys. The law only allows men older than 18 to undergo traditional initiation, and then only if they have undergone a medical screening process, and obtained consent from their parents and traditional leader.

Mamkeli Ngam, the provincial spokesperson for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, said they were shocked that people continued to run illegal initiation schools after efforts by government and traditional leaders to ensure the process was done safely and legally.

“It is hard to believe that five young men have already lost their lives in initiation schools only two weeks into the season. We had aimed for and always pray for zero deaths, but we find initiates dying under mysterious circumstances that are easily avoidable,” Ngam said.

He said traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa was compiling a report on this year’s summer initiation season, which will be handed to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize.

“The MEC is expected to report to the minister about everything relating to traditional initiation – the deaths of initiates, arrests and everything – so that national government can make the necessary intervention and support efforts to stop the deaths,” Ngam said.

Lusikisiki Police Station commander Lieutenant Colonel Zanemvula Gwebani said Salina, who was arrested after the police were tipped off by community members, did not have a permit to operate an initiation school.

“He appeared at the Lusikisiki Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, where he was remanded. He has been charged with illegally circumcising underage boys and for running an illegal initiation school,” he said.

Gwebani said all the boys circumcised by the two traditional surgeons had no documents with them – as required by law.

“The boys have now been taken to a place of safety, where they will finish their traditional initiation process because all of them are in good shape. We are also hot on the heels of the second traditional surgeon who has been on the run since Tuesday,” Gwebani said.

Two more deaths of Achumile Mngqetha (20) and Siyanda Mboxela (19) were confirmed yesterday.

Sinalo Tabata (20) passed away in the Chris Hani region due to dehydration. He reportedly became dizzy and hallucinated before dying on Wednesday.

Ngam said they were investigating the circumstances under which Siphesihle Mlombeli (17) died after hanging himself in Matatiele.

“Where was the traditional nurse? Even the initiate who died in Matatiele last week ... there were reports by police that he had burn wounds on his buttocks,” he said.

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July 2020

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