Rising death toll from initiations

THE circumcision death toll in the Eastern Cape has climbed to an alarming 34 as the third week of the Winter initiation season draws to a close.

Already the 2012 winter season has surpassed the death toll during the same period last year when 26 initiates had died. Since Tuesday, the number has increased by 14 from 20 to 34.

The death toll keeps rising despite various strategies and campaigns by the government, Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders (ECHTL), local traditional leaders and traditional circumcision practitioners. The departments of health and traditional affairs have been at the forefront of campaigns.

ECHTL chairman Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima said the increase was worrying.

“While Pondoland remains problematic and still has the highest number of deaths and injuries, the fatilities have spread to other places as like Matatiele, Willowvale, Ugie and Butterworth,” said Matanzima.

“This is very worrying that the entire province will be engulfed with this disaster. Hence, we wants more focus to be made on the prevention of the circumcision deaths.”

Matanzima said that concerned that 34 young lives were lost in barely three weeks.

“We fear that more lives may be lost as the season continue, but pray for divine prevention.”

Matanzima said a number of factors contributed to the “disaster” this winter season. These included financial constraints.

He said they were operating with a budget of about R700,000 for both the summer and winter initiation seasons.

Previously, Matanzima said, they had a budget of close to R4-million.

“This on its own created a problem and we therefore could not have the plans and campaigns we normally have,” said Matanzima.

He also said some traditional leaders and parents have not played their part in curbing deaths.

“How can a traditional leader boast of being a custodian of custom and culture while doing nothing to protect the rite which is one of the corner stones of our customs?” said Matanzima.

The health department has allocated 30 vehicles to traditional leaders to visit initiation schools.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) in the province joined the chorus of organisations concerned by the rising deaths of initiates in Eastern Cape initiation schools .

“This challenge warrants all people of our province to unite and fight against malpractice of this old custom and those who are now turning our custom into a narrow business for their selfish interests. We cannot allow anyone to commodify our custom and objectify vulnerable young people in the process,” said SACP provincial spokesman Siyabonga Mdodi earlier this week.