Five teens die during initiation [circumcision]

News  Natal Witness (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa). Wednesday, 26 June 2002.

Sarie Van Niekerk


Police probe charges after

Five Xhosa boys who were at an initiation school in a mountainous, heavily wooded area near Heidelberg [Gauteng Province] have been found dead, while two are in intensive care at a local hospital and at least 16 others need treatment for severe trauma and septic wounds after their traditional circumcisions.

All the children are from Orange Farm.

Four men, all allegedly helpers of a chief whose every order they have to obey, are being held by police and questioned on charges of murder, attempted murder, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and culpable homicide.

The body of the first of the children - all of whom are between 13 and 14 years old - was found on Sunday night outside the homestead beside the initiation school. Members of the emergency services found the bodies of the other four early on Tuesday after reports were received of badly injured children outside the homestead.

The other 18 initiates were away from the inaccessible site when police arrived, but later in the morning they came from the mountains to which they had fled. Some of them were badly injured, two so seriously that they could not walk. They all had particularly bad injuries to their feet.

All 18 children were badly traumatised and had to be treated for shock. Some showed signs of assault, apparently by knobkerries.

Two of the dead had serious infections in their circumcision wounds. The other deceased had not been circumcised, but, said police spokesman Superintendent Roy Fry, all had serious injuries, mostly to their upper bodies and feet.

Paramedics said the biting cold of the previous night probably also played a role in the children's deaths. According to them, the temperature in the mountains where the school is situated fell as low as 10 degrees below zero.

There are reports of two other initiation schools being conducted at present in the same mountains, one of them for girls. Police and paramedics said on Tuesday that they will close these schools and forbid them to continue with their activities.

Traditionally, the weaker initiates in a school are rejected by the others and banished outside the kraal, where they are left to fend for themselves. Someone in the school usually sends a message to emergency services for help, but paramedics said the call often comes too late.

The remaining intitates initially did not want to leave the school on Tuesday.

They have already completed three of the five weeks and will now have to attend the next school to complete the initiation process.

According to experts, most young Xhosa men wish to undergo circumcision so that they will be viewed as adults, but the ritual's traditional medical and moral aspects must not be underestimated.

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