Traditional surgeons nabbed for circumcisions

News  Cape Times (Capetown, South Africa), Page 6. Monday, 14 November 2005.

Michel Muller

The police have arrested three illegal traditional surgeons in the Eastern Cape since late last week, department of health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said on Saturday.

Illegal traditional surgeons caught circumcising underage boys will feel the full might of the law, he said.

We are taking a no-nonsense approach to them.

'We have three helicopters and 400 4x4s on standby'. He said the department and the police were clamping down on illegal circumcisions after 23 boys died in the June-July circumcisions in the Eastern Cape.

The department had met the provincial police commissioner to discuss strategies.

We are also approaching the minister of justice and the director of public prosecutions to make sure that if an illegal surgeon is arrested, he stays in jail until the end of the season.

The penalties, in terms of the Traditional Circumcision Act No 6 of 2001, were one to 15 years in jail or a R1 000 to R15 000 fine.

Since the act came in, we have successfully convicted and sentenced 31 illegal traditional surgeons and nurses, out of 63 charged, he said.

'Illegal surgeons have no place to hide' Health MEC Bevan Goqwana would be busy like a bee during the November-December circumcision season, focusing for the whole of December on the circumcision thing.

We have three helicopters and 400 4x4s on standby, he said. Kupelo said illegal surgeons would find they had no place to hide.

We are taking no chances. We rush in, investigate and take the person to the police. We have to try by all means to avoid these deaths. We want to stop them once and for all. It is zero tolerance, we are armed to the teeth.

It costs a lot to treat an initiate in hospital - about R700 a day. From 1995, we estimate it has cost more than R10-million to keep initiates in hospital.

He said the 400 medical officers would examine and treat the boys in the bush, and take them to hospital only if they were in a serious condition.

There was no budget to build wards for initiates, and hospitals were suffering severe shortages, he said.

Kupelo said the department had rescued about 5 000 boys during the June-July season.

(A total) of 250 would have died if they had not got to hospital. As it is, five of them lost their manhood. Their penises were amputated because they were gangrenous. It is very serious.

He said more than 400 traditional surgeons had registered their practises since last year in terms of the act, which also requires surgeons keep records of the boys and get their parents' permission.

Those are the ones who came forward. We capacitated them and trained them in health standards and gave them equipment and chemicals to sterilise their instruments.

Kupelo said if stringent hygiene was not applied, circumcision with one instrument of 20 to 100 boys could spread HIV and Aids.

He said the department was not advocating an end to the tradition.

We are not custodians. We are enforcing the law. They must do it legally; comply with the act. If they follow the rules, we won't touch them.

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