Initiating boys, by means of circumsion, into manhood is an ancient African tradition still valued and practiced by many tribes in South Africa. In some tribes, a male is never recognized as a real man if he has not participated in the formal rituals.
To undergo initiation, boys as young as 12 are compelled to stay in the mountains away from their families for about five weeks. What happens there is shrouded in secrecy and never discussed once they return.
But what is known is that hundreds of boys have died in recent years while others have lost their manhood during some of these initiation rituals.
In June and July alone, 29 initiates from various initiation schools died during the process in Mpumalanga Province. Thirty died in the country’s Eastern Cape Province while close to 300 were hospitalized as a result of botched circumcisions.
“Most of them died because of excessive bleeding,” said Ronnie Masilela, spokesperson for the Department of Health on Mpumalanga Province. “After the investigation that was conducted, the preliminary report pointed out to some omissions on the part of some of the people who were conducting the schools.”
There are also concerns that the boys risk contracting HIV following reports that some surgeons use a single knife in circumcising all the initiates.
Despite the risks, South Africans seem reluctant to abandon or modify the practice.
MPUMALANGA PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA —Thuso Khumalo