RESPONDING to a disastrous winter initiation season during which 39 initiates died, the health department is planning to set up a number of facilities, staffed by surgeons and nurses, in a bid to prevent future deaths.BOYS TO MEN: A group of young AmaMpondo men graduate from initiation school in Bizana. INSET: Eastern Cape health MEC Sicelo Gqobana plans to have permanent staff available to help initiates. Picture: LULAMILE FENI
Eastern Cape health department MEC Sicelo Gqobana has expressed shock over the death toll, saying it costs his department millions of rands every season as sick and injured initiates flood hospitals and clinics throughout the province.
Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the deaths of initiates were preventable and Gqobana was in the process of devising a plan to prevent future deaths.
“While not finalised, the MEC is looking into having permanent facilities to assist in the crisis. The first facility will be established in the area most affected by this,” he said, adding that this was not intended to stop the custom, merely to help make it safer.
“The custom has nothing to do with the actual surgical procedure, it will remain a custom but it’s the cutting of the boys that is important. How this is done needs to be closely looked at as some of the boys are getting infected and ending up in hospital,” said Kupelo. “This is very close to genocide.”
The planned facilities, according to Kupelo, will offer trained surgeons who will perform the custom and nurses to look after the initiates. “Now is the time to stop the secrecy in a custom that sees this province losing young boys.
“Family trees are ending now, these are lives we are losing, not flies,” he said. At the start of this season, the department announced R20-million had been set aside to assist in curbing initiation deaths in the province. Although some of it was used to hire 37 bakkies to be used by officials to visit all the districts to assist in monitoring, the funds had little impact in preventing the death toll.
This figure grows every year, with the most recent statistics received from the health department indicating that 462 initiates have died in the past seven years.
During this period, just over 5 000 initiates have been admitted to different hospitals in the province.
Kupelo said the admission of initiates was hitting the department hard. “For each initiate admitted, we spend R1 000 a day. Some hospitals are short of beds and it ends up inconveniencing hospital management,” he said.
Gqobana described the death of initiates as a poor reflection on the province. “We need no more deaths of initiates in our province. This is our custom, but it’s a disgrace to see initiates die or end up losing their penises. Let’s go out there and assist,” he said.
Local government and traditional affairs MEC, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, earlier this week called on community and families to assist in fighting the problem.
Sikhathele Ndovela, the headman of Gumzana village, said the department was coming up with a plan that will assist the whole province. “This is not an AmaMpondo problem but [affects] other nations like Thembus. This will help. They must act now,” said Ndovela.
Kansas Shezi, parent of deceased 14-year-old initiate, Siniko Shezi, said: “Anything that can help us will be great. We are losing children, this is a good plan.” —firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com