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South Africa
Culture - Arts | Society

South Africa addresses deaths at traditional initiations

afrol News, 24 May - The many "horrific incidents" that often occur in traditional initiation rites have caused South African media and the government to call for stronger control with initiation schools. At a traditional initiation schools conference in Johannesburg today, traditional leaders were urged to "search for practical solutions."

South African Minister for Provincial and Local Government, Fholisani Sydney Mufamadi, today addressed senior public servants and traditional leaders and healers at the Johannesburg conference. He insisted that the conference must start a process of overcoming life-threatening conditions at the country's traditional initiation schools, which had "caused untold suffering among our people."

The practices at South Africa's initiation schools had come to the public's attention after growing media reports lately. Only last year, at least 12 boys reportedly died during initiation rites and almost 100 were hospitalised. Only recently, a 20-year-old was beaten to death during a circumcision ceremony in the Eastern Cape province.

Government was the guarantor the basic right to life, Minister Mufamadi told the delegates, and it had to curb "the death of our young people who die as they undergo initiation at our traditional schools." The conference offered him an opportunity "not only to take stock of the success or failure of the measures which have been introduced to address the scourge of these fatalities, but also to determine whether or not current practices have remained loyal to the original motivations of our forebears."

- Government feels compelled by the horrific incidents that often occur in initiation schools, to continually insist on the search for practical solutions, Minister Mufamadi said. "Apart from the deaths themselves, some victims have suffered the loss of reproductive organs and yet others have suffered from preventable infections," he added.

The Minister recalled the South African constitutional right to exercise one's culture and traditions and said the government encouraged this. However, the government was in its right to seek to regulate the health aspects of circumcision. "Those who practice it will have to ensure that they do not employ methods, which are manifestly at odds with the provisions of ordinary criminal law," said Mr Mufamadi.

So far, only three South African provinces have approved legislation, which bear on the issue of circumcision. In the Northern Province, Eastern Cape and the Free State, provincial laws deal with the observation of health standards in traditional initiation schools, the granting of permission for the operation of circumcision schools and, generally, with the granting of permission to conduct circumcision. Parental consent is also provided for if the boy is below a prescribed age.

According to the Minister, these three provinces had managed to significantly improve the safety at the initiation rites. In Eastern Cape, there had been a 70 percent decline in incidences of unlawful initiations from 2001 to date, said Mr Mufamadi. 42 traditional surgeons and nurses have been arrested since the province's Traditional Circumcision Act was introduced.

The Minister urged other provinces to follow these examples to limit the deaths and hospitalisations that occur during initiation rites. He promised government would introduce appropriate control measures. A national law to regulate traditional initiation schools would be considered by parliament later this year, he said.

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