Respect initiation – without loss of life

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper June 14, 2014. 

The traditional initiation season started yesterday and many young boys are heading to initiation schools countrywide to take part in this cultural rite of passage during their winter holiday.

In an effort to curb the deaths that result from circumcisions done at some of these schools, R180 million has been set aside by the Department of Health to assist initiation schools. Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said every province will be given R20 million. This money can be used to hire help or buy necessary aids at initiation schools.

Some of the problem areas identified include the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, where some illegal schools are in operation. Motsoaledi said the problem in the Eastern Cape was “complex” because people are allowed to open up initiation schools without the consent of their traditional leader. This is why parents need to ensure the school they take their child to is legal – and report illegal schools.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi addresses a joint media briefing held in Pretoria on the initiation cultural practices. (Photo: GCIS)
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi addresses a joint media briefing held in Pretoria on the initiation cultural practices. (Photo: GCIS)

“We can’t let these thugs kill our children,” said Motsoaledi.

Obed Bapela, deputy minister of traditional affairs said a “zero tolerance” stance would be taken on “bogus operators” of illegal initiation schools. “The loss of life that occurred over the years prompted government and the traditional leadership to embark on a drive to restore the integrity and dignity of the practice.”

Bapela gave an example of the 32 deaths last year in Mpumalanga, saying the Hawks were investigating the matter.

Motsoaledi said while some traditional leaders may be resistant to help, they need to understand that “things have changed”. Diseases such as diabetes have become more prevalent and require initiation schools to take more precautions.

The money provided is part of R385 million set aside by the department for the medical male circumcision programme, which will provide free circumcisions. The department will provide further support through assisting with health screening, providing medicines and technical help. Motsoaledi said health screening was vital in preventing deaths. “We need to pick up prior medical conditions” to avoid the inevitable.

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