The death of 21 boys at initiation schools in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa during the current summer initiation season on Friday made the country’s parliament to probe into the deaths and circumcision practices.
“The heartbreaking deaths happen at a time when families are preparing to be together for the festive season. We are extending our heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these boys,” said Faith Muthambi, Chairman of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
Muthambi said the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) must investigate the deaths of the initiates and come up with new solutions on how to continue with the tradition of initiation in the changing climatic and weather conditions to ensure that not a single life is lost in the future, a Xinxua news agency report said.
The Eastern Cape province has been a hotbed of illegal initiation, where most circumcision-related deaths are reported every year.
Circumcision is viewed as a sacred practice in most African cultures, marking a male’s transition from child to adulthood. According to the tradition, young males have to be circumcised as the right of passage to manhood.
“All the 21 boys have died because of dehydration,” Muthambi added while noting that earlier reports put the death toll at 23. She condemned the deaths “in the strongest terms”.
The parliamentarian said the deaths could have been avoided “if traditional practices such as water restrictions to initiates before and after the initiation can be reviewed from time to time to ensure that if they threaten the lives of the initiates in the fast changing weather conditions, they are discontinued.”
Muthambi said her committee will invite the leadership of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa to come to Parliament in the new year with the purpose of finding solutions to the problems of the tradition of initiation.
Dozens of boys die and many more are hospitalized annually in South Africa as a result of botched circumcision.
Every year, the government launches a crackdown on illegal initiation to ensure zero deaths, but the practice is still popular with many families preferring cultural methods than accessing healthcare facilities.