CAPE TOWN – Botched circumcision has claimed 17 lives in South Africa since the winter initiation season began in June, authorities said on Sunday.
All the deaths were reported in the Eastern Cape province, a hotbed of illegal initiation, where most circumcision-related deaths are reported every year, according to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).
This came despite an intensified crackdown on illegal initiation schools to achieve the goal of zero deaths during the initiation season. So far, law enforcement agencies have rescued more than 100 initiates from illegal initiation schools in the province, the COGTA said.
The department said the provincial initiation task team would meet soon to look at what had gone wrong and work out effective measures to stem illegal circumcision.
COGTA spokesperson Mamnkeli Ngam said his department was trying to ensure that those responsible for the deaths would be successfully prosecuted so as to send out a strong message. Ngam said 24 cases have been brought to the courts.
"We want to see a situation where we work closely with the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) to build watertight case so that all those arrested receive free and fair trials and get appropriate sentences," he said.
This would serve as a signal that any person who does not adhere to the law is going to be prosecuted without fear of favor, said Ngam. Circumcision is viewed as a sacred practice in African cultures, marking a male's transition from child to adulthood.
According to the tradition, young males have to be circumcised as the passage to manhood. Every year dozens of boys die and many more are hospitalized in South Africa as a result of botched circumcision. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 1,000 penile amputations.