Over half a million initiates maimed under the knife

More than half a million boys have been hospitalised due to botched traditional circumcisions since 2008, according to a new report. Released yesterday, the report says that the dangerous commercialisation of tradition is fuelling the rise of illegal initiation schools in which drug abuse and violence may be rampant.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa will be vetting medical doctors before they take up contracts with the Department of Health to conduct outreach to initiation schools. These doctors will be expected to have undergone initiation themselves.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa will be vetting medical doctors before they take up contracts with the Department of Health to conduct outreach to initiation schools. These doctors will be expected to have undergone initiation themselves.

In the last seven years, about 456 000 initiates have been hospitalised in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo alone, according to a new report from the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL).

Based on community consultations, the report also highlighted that at least 419 boys had died in the two provinces during the same period.

According to National House of Traditional Leaders representatives, three deaths have been recorded in Mpumalanga and one in the Eastern Cape since the start of the latest initiation seasons there.

As part of updating its original 2006 research on traditional initiation, the CRL partnered with the South African Human Rights Commission to conduct public hearings. During these hearings, parents expressed fears about the prevalence of violence and drug use among illegally operated schools, as well as exorbitant fees.

According to CRL Chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, botched circumcisions, abuse and drug use associated with illegal schools will be the death of the time-honoured practice.

“We cannot have mothers lose their boys up there and be told only when the other boys come back,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said. “At this rate, (the practice) is going to die of natural causes because…people are scared of taking their kids to initiation schools.”

Boys being thought of as commodities 

The commercialisation of the practice was blamed for fostering licit schools.

“Once we see our young people as money-making things that we can use and abuse in order for us to improve our bank accounts, the culture has stopped and something else has started,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told Health-e News. “Once people see this is as business, then it is like you are running a spaza shop – I open mine, you open yours.”

“Once we see our young people as money-making things… the culture has stopped and something else has started”

The CRL has recommended that government create minimum standards for initiation schools, as well as traditional surgeons and nurses.

The body is also strongly advocating that Parliament create minimum sentencing requirements for those found to be running schools without the permission of traditional leadership. It added that legislation regarding the legal age for initiation be standardised across the country to remedy provincial disparities.

The Department of Health recently announced that it would spend R180 million to support safe circumcision in initiation schools. The department has already begun providing pre-initiation health screenings to initiates, and medical supplies to traditional surgeons and nurses. Traditional practioners are also slated to receive training in preventing and identifying infection.

Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa Gauteng Chairperson Prince Manene Tabane reiterated that traditional leaders would be vetting private doctors before they are contracted by government to conduct outreach visits to schools. These doctors will be expected to have undergone traditional initiation themselves.

He added that in Gauteng, traditional leaders are undertaking a similar process to identify members of the South African Police Services who can comprise monitoring teams. – Health-e News Service.

An edited version of this story first appeared in the 25 June editions of The Star and Pretoria News newspapers

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