Death of the initiates

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High schools officially closed on 6 December, which means that young men in the Eastern Cape are heading in droves to initiation schools to follow one of their cultures’ most important rites of passage, circumcision, and officials are once again warning parents to ensure their young man are properly cared for in reputable schools.

December to January is the season for traditional circumcision in South Africa and the practice has become  controversial as thousands of young men die for a variety of reasons ranging from dehydration to severe infection. Countless others are admitted to hospitals and some have to undergo penile amputation due to severe infection.

Six initiates died over the weekend, five of dehydration and septicemia, and one committed suicide, the Herald reported Tuesday 12 December. Five of the initiates died in the OR Tambo region. Most of them were underage, the youngest being 15. Three other initiates were admitted to hospital and underwent penile amputation, according to the Herald.

In 2016, it was reported that approximately 46 young men lost their lives while undergoing traditional circumcision.

The Contralesa Youth Wing Eastern Cape wishes to register that there is no acceptable
number in this respect, one is too many. The group says it will continue investigating what exactly is killing these young people.

It advises that parents remain involved in the initiation, even after their son has gone to the bush.

“We are saying there is a portion of blame that must be attributed to the father in the event that the initiate dies as a result of either criminal activities taking place in the bush, sustained injuries, dehydration and /or illegal circumcisions,” the group said in a statement.

“The first question that must be asked is where was the father? What was his involvement? What did he do? What was his intervention, if any?”

In the case of single mothers, the group advises that the uncle, brother or other trusted family member get involved, at least for the first week of the transition.

Further, the group, encourages parents to know the friends of their children. It is highly likely that when some of the friends go to the initiation school and others do not,  peer pressure will kick in with those
left behind. This can lead to young people going along to bogus or un registered schools, even when they are under age.

The biggest problem by far, however, is that known unlicensed  surgeons continue to practice illegal circumcisions without being arrested, prosecuted and convicted by the legal system, according to the Contralesa Youth Wing.

“We are sending heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and vouching that we will soon find
answers on the real causes of this,” it said.

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