Circumcision leaves 24 dead, 100 in hospital [in South Africa]

News  Star (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). Sunday, 16 June 2002.

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's initiation season ended at the weekend with a gruesome toll of 24 deaths reported to police and more than 100 teenagers hospitalised with gangrene and septicaemia after botched circumcisions and severe beatings.

One boy's penis dropped off as a result of gangrene, at least one other had to have his penis amputated, and another will have to have both legs amputated, authorities said.

Teenagers have been attending initiation schools in the bush since the beginning of June for the rituals, seen in many black cultures as an essential rite of passage to manhood.

Problems arise when circumcisers use blunt and unsterilised knives, and when punishments for such lapses as forgetting the words of a chant become too severe - some boys are literally beaten to death.

In one bizarre case, police said a 77-year-old initiate was tortured to death at Mafikeng, in the northwest.

He had injuries to the back and on the chest. He was tortured and beaten, said police spokesman Keaobaka Moses.

Moses said the police were investigating the possibility that the man was taken to the school by force.

The National House for Traditional Leaders said that if the government approved legislative powers for traditional leaders, they might be more able to control customs like initiation ceremonies.

If government doesn't want to give recognition to the institution, then you can't do anything really, said spokesman Sibusiso Nkosi.

Nkosi said he had never heard of a 77-year-old person being an initiate.

We need to talk about how this tradition can be controlled. There is no uniformity anymore. It's out of control. People are more interested in making money than respecting the tradition.

It's not culture to beat a person.

Other victims are as young as 12, although the law states that no one under 18 may undergo traditional circumcision.

The traditional leaders are seeking funds to hold a round table conference with doctors, anthropologists and other experts on the initiation rites.

The annual deaths are prompting calls for the boys to be circumcised in hospitals while continuing to undergo the remainder of the ceremonies in the initiation schools, and this is already happening to a limited extent.

Several murder charges have been laid this season, prosecutions are being carried out under the Traditional Circumcision Act, and some schools were closed down.

In the Eastern Cape, provincial health minister  External link Bevan Goqwana accused parents of laxness and said the parents of boys killed or maimed during circumcisions would be arrested along with negligent traditional surgeons and nurses. - AFP

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