Death toll rises to 41 as another young initiate dies in blaze

THE winter circumcision death toll in the Eastern Cape has risen to 41 after the death of yet another would-be initiate, the provincial health department said yesterday.

The latest victim was a 19-year-old who died on Friday, health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said. He was part of an initiation school at Nyanisweni Village, Bizana, which was set alight early on Saturday morning.

All 11 boys at the school were burnt when their grass hut caught fire in a suspected arson attack.

"The boys were sent to the Nelson Mandela Academic hospital. One boy died from 100percent burns all over his body," Kupelo said, adding that another boy also died from the fire.

"The department has asked police to investigate the matter because a person from the village was seen throwing something onto the roof (of the initiation school). He laughed and then ran off."

Several of the initiates were seriously injured.

The department's call for traditional circumcision to be suspended in the Pondoland area during the winter season had worked with good results as there was a decrease in deaths, Kupelo said.

"Before this we were losing two to three lives a day to traditional circumcision," he said.

"It has been almost two weeks without any deaths, except for the 19-year-old which is not necessarily from circumcision, but he did die at an initiation school."

Kupelo said the department was continuing to investigate the situation and a team had been sent to the area to collect information.

"We need to know how many legal and illegal initiation schools there are," Kupelo said.

But there were some success stories.

Kupelo said seventy boys had successfully graduated from a village initiation school in the province.

"There is nothing wrong with the traditional way but we need to make sure that the health of these boys is not compromised."

He said 55000 boys attend initiation schools annually in the province.