23 June 2014
South Africa is moving to ensure the safety of boys and young men who undergo circumcisions while attending traditional initiation schools in the country, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced earlier this month.
Addressing journalists in Pretoria on 13 June, Motsoaledi said the state would be paying for doctors who had been chosen by traditional leaders to carry out circumcisions at initiation schools.
Motsoaledi said his department had reached an agreement with the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) that they could choose professional circumcision doctors to help them with pre-circumcision screening, circumcision and after-care.
The winter school holiday signals the opening of initiation schools spread across Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and parts of Gauteng province.
The minister said the unnecessary deaths of numerous initiates, as well as numerous injuries sustained by initiates, in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga province in recent years had warranted serious intervention by the government and traditional leaders.
He said his department had set aside R180-million to support safe circumcisions at initiation schools in 2014/15.
Support will include health screening for all initiates at approved legal initiation schools, as well as the provision of medical consumables and transport for initiation monitoring teams.
Motsoaledi said there were already eight doctors directly contracted to his department who were providing medical male circumcision at initiation schools in Limpopo province, while eight were working with traditional leaders at Mpumalanga’s 27 initiation schools, and five working in the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape.
According to the minister, the health practitioners conducted 22 325 circumcisions without deaths or injuries in Limpopo last year. “At those initiation schools who were working with the general practitioners in the previous initiation school season, no deaths occurred.”
Motsoaledi made it clear that bogus traditional surgeons and their illegal initiation schools were not part of the new partnership.
“As government, we regard the establishment of illegal initiation schools as a criminal activity, and it must be dealt with in the manner in which criminals are dealt with.”
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister Obed Bapela, also addressing the briefing, urged citizens to report suspected illegal initiation schools or bogus traditional surgeons by calling his department on 082 822 5878 or the chairperson of the national task team, Kgoshi Mahlangu, on 071 461 0475.
He said four deaths had already been reported since the beginning of this year’s initiation season, three in Mpumalanga province and one in the Eastern Cape.
“In Mpumalanga, one died in Nkangala district as a result of dehydration, while the other two died in Verena as a result of diabetes and pneumonia because there was no prior-screening conducted before the initiates were enrolled at the school”.
He said an investigation into the deaths, and the schools involved, was under way.
Bapela said the 17-year-old boy in King Sabatha District in the Eastern Cape had died of hunger and dehydration in an illegal initiation school after being forced to be circumcised by a traditional surgeon.
“A case has been opened, we know the traditional surgeon, very soon an arrest will be taking place, and through these measures we want to show that government wants this cultural practice to be done with care, love and in a very responsible way,” Bapela said.
“If you are a bogus traditional surgeon, don’t think government is going to leave you. We are going to arrest you and ensure that there is prosecution.”
The deputy chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Kgoshi Sefogole Makgeru, said: “This practice remains the pride of our people; this is a proud moment of the House and the nation at large. This culture is very strong, thanks to government intervention.”
Urging parents and guardians to avoid taking their boys to illegal initiation schools, he added: “We also want to use this opportunity to welcome all our boys into the new world, the world of promise, the world of pride, where manhood is to be instilled.”