Government’s efforts to curb the deaths of young initiates through illegal circumcision in the Eastern Cape made a breakthrough over the weekend when police arrested three traditional surgeons (iingcibi) and seven traditional nurses (amakhankatha) for circumcising underage boys.
Mthatha police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela said one of the surgeons had been arrested in the Tina Falls area near Qumbu while the other two were apprehended in Ngqeleni on Saturday following a raid on illegal initiation schools.
The suspects are aged between 18 and 20.
Four traditional nurses aged between 17 and 18 were also arrested in Tina Falls while another three were arrested in Ngqeleni.
“They were charged with circumcising young boys who are underage as the majority of them were not even older than 16 years,” said Fatyela.
“The new Customary Male Initiation Practice Act prohibits children under 18 years old from undergoing initiation.”
Fatyela revealed that some of the suspects went through the rite of passage to manhood last year.
He said they would appear in court in Ngqeleni and Qumbu today on charges of contravening the Circumcision Act.
Fatyela urged communities to work with the police and traditional leaders to root out the problem.
The news comes less than three weeks after cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa criss crossed the province in a quest to try and sensitise communities and young boys about the dangers of illegal circumcision prior to the start of the winter initiation season.
The Daily Dispatch has carried several horrific stories about young boys being rescued from illegal schools during initiation season. Some of the boys end up having their penises amputated while others lose their lives from being assaulted at these schools.
Eastern Cape provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo hailed the police for the breakthrough saying the only solution to the problem was “ heavy-handed” action by the state.
He said the new Act was a big test for the government and stakeholders to make sure it was properly enforced and followed.
“It’s about the lives of those young boys. So even the judiciary will have to play its role and take this seriously,” he said.
Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chairman Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima said it was shocking that despite all the awareness campaigns there were still incidents of people trying to cash in on the custom by running illegal schools.
He said joblessness among young people was partly to blame for the mushrooming of illegal initiation school as some youths saw a way of making a quick buck.
“These arrests are like an intsomi [myth]. If we are going to say the same thing over and over and people continue to do it, then it means it is us who don’t place any value on our custom.”
He blamed parents who failed to involve the police even after finding out that their children had run off to an illegal initiation school.