Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published May 17, 2013 at 6:20 AM | Page modified May 17, 2013 at 8:48 AM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

23 dead in initiation rites in South Africa

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

Associated Press

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
No comments have been posted to this article.
Start the conversation >

advertising

JOHANNESBURG —

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.

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."

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

The Seattle Times wins top award for multimedia storytelling

The Seattle Times wins top award for multimedia storytelling

Our Sea Change series received a prestigious 2015 DuPont-Columbia award for showcasing the power of storytelling on the Web. Experience the report here.

Advertising

Partner Video

Advertising

Career Center Blog

Career Center Blog

Looking for joy on the job


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►