• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

Initiates suffer due to lack of water

This summer, 17 initiates died from dehydration due to a water-based myth perpetuated by society, traditional surgeons and nurses. The Department of Health has allocated R11 million worth of intervention and has called for immediate arrests.


By Khuthala Nandipha

The Eastern Cape Department of Health has called for the immediate arrest of traditional surgeons and traditional nurses responsible for the 17 ‘unnecessary deaths’ of initiates in the province. Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba, announced that the majority of the initiates have died as a result of dehydration after they were deprived of water by those entrusted to make sure they graduate and become men.


“This shows a complete disregard for human life. The belief that if initiates are not given water their wounds will heal faster, could not be further from the truth. Some ‘would-be’ initiates even stop taking water before they undergo the ritual because of being misinformed. They die from dehydration just days after being circumcised,” said Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo.


“We cannot survive without water, so why should initiates be any different to the rest of us?

National Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize has allocated R11 million for quick medical intervention as he leads a team of medical doctors and nurses to initiation schools this week to distribute water and provide medical assistance. If hospitalised, initiates will be placed in special wards. 


“While we understand the cultural sensitivities around having medical doctors and nurses at traditional initiation schools, our number one priority is to ensure these would-be men return home healthy and not in coffins. However, this intervention will be pointless if traditional nurses continue depriving initiates this life-saving natural resource,” said Kupelo.


The presence of doctors and nurses, it has been assured, will not compromise the sacred traditional rite of passage to manhood as traditional leaders, and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), the custodians of the old age rite, will be present throughout the visits. The Department encouraged parents and relatives to regularly visit initiates and possibly stay until they graduate to prevent possible abuse. This includes those who might be victims of botched circumcision who will need penile amputations because medical assistance is sought very late.


Law enforcement agencies have been consulted to ensure that they make an example of those bringing traditional circumcision into disrepute and sentence them to lengthy prison sentences. Police spokespersons in the province are yet to give a clear direction of what will be done regarding the deaths.


Over the past five years, the Eastern Cape lost 500 young lives from the initiation schools.

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