23 dead in initiation rites in South Africa

May 17, 2013 by Wandoo Makurdi
In this July 7, 2006 file photo an unidentified initiate, with his face caked in white lime clay, eats rice from his blanket during his rite of transformation from a boy to manhood near Port St. John's, South Africa. South African police say 23 youths have died over a period of nine days at initiation ceremonies that include circumcisions and survival tests. (AP Photo/Obed Zilwa-file)

(AP)—Twenty-three youths have died in the past nine days at initiation ceremonies that include circumcisions and survival tests, South African police said Friday.

Police have opened 22 murder cases in the deaths in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Leonard Hlathi. He said an inquest is being held into the 23rd death, of a youth who complained of stomach pains and vomited.

Initiation ceremonies are common in South Africa, where youths partake in various activities as a rite of passage into adulthood, usually over the course of three weeks. Some 30,000 youths signed up for initiation this year.

In addition to being circumcised, the boys and young men are put through a series of survival tests which sometimes include exposure to South Africa's chilly winter conditions with skimpy clothing. Their faces are painted with red clay and they also are given herbal concoctions to drink.

In this Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 file photo Bambatha Mandela, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, takes part in an initiation ceremony in Qunu, South Africa in a traditional Xhosa rite of passage to manhood. South African police say 23 youths have died over a period of nine days at initiation ceremonies that include circumcisions and survival tests. (AP Photo, File)

Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, described the experience in his autobiography as "a kind of spiritual preparation for the trials of manhood."

Hlathi said that all the deaths occurred at government-registered initiation sites where medical practitioners usually are present. The government became involved to prevent such unnecessary deaths.

Mathibela Mokoena, chairman of the House of Traditional Leaders in Mpumalanga, says the Department of Health was alerted before the initiation ceremonies began, but only showed up after the first few deaths were reported. He said the department has now agreed to have officials present for the remainder of the ceremony.

Popo Maja, head of communications at the Health Dpartment, said: "We would want to find out why they were done without the supervision of medical personnel.

The deaths are the highest recorded in Mpumalanga, surpassing the previous highest toll of eight some years ago, Mokoena said. He said early investigation by the House of Traditional Leaders showed some schools were negligent, leaving the youths in the care of young men instead of experienced adults.

Mokoena said some of the initiates were not in ideal health when they enrolled. He said new legislation is being introduced outlining procedures to be followed, and including a punishment of a life ban for those found negligent.

The suspected causes of the deaths were not released pending the results of post-mortems. Most deaths in the past have been caused by infection and loss of blood after circumcision.

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said the government is sending condolences to the families and urged creation of "better and safe initiation schools that will ensure the safe passage of young initiates to manhood and prevent the unfortunate loss of lives."

Explore further: Over quarter of S.African schoolgirls HIV positive

Related Stories

Over quarter of S.African schoolgirls HIV positive

March 14, 2013
As many as 28 percent of South African schoolgirls are HIV positive, according to figures from the country's health minister reported by local media on Thursday.

US study: Fewer dying in hospitals, more at home

March 27, 2013
Surveys show most Americans would rather die at home than in a hospital. Now, a new government study suggests more and more people getting their wish.

One in 10 South Africans HIV positive

May 14, 2013
One in ten South Africans is HIV positive but AIDS-related deaths are falling as ramped-up treatment begins to have an impact, the country's official statistics agency said Tuesday.

Darfur yellow fever deaths double to 67: UN agency

November 6, 2012
The number of people believed to have died from mosquito-borne yellow fever in Sudan's conflict-plagued Darfur region has doubled to 67, health officials said on Tuesday.

Deaths from West Nile virus hit record last year

May 13, 2013
U.S. health officials say last year was the worst ever for West Nile virus deaths.

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2013
Natural selection is an inexact process.
Sean_W
2 / 5 (4) May 18, 2013
So if you don't get genital mutilation and you don't get left out in the cold to see if you die or not you're not a real man? I think a real man would be the guy who tells you to get stuffed when you try to do that to him.
Chromodynamix
not rated yet May 18, 2013
Natural selection is an inexact process, especially if you are still living in the stone age!
It's kinda spooky driving along the modern N2 highway, and seeing plastered faces of young men wearing only a blankets walking along the road!
loneislander
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2013
Credulity is an oasis for dogma. But what does the world offer in exchange?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.