South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday urged traditional leaders to help curb a rise in the number of initiation deaths as a result of botched circumcision.
“We look to traditional leaders to work with government and communities to find solutions to the needless death of young males during initiation schools,’’ Ramaphosa said as he addressed the annual opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town.
There has been a spike in the deaths of initiates, particularly in the Eastern Cape province, since the summer traditional initiation season began in November.
Official statistics showed that at least 34 boys have died as a result of botched circumcision, with 20 of them coming from the Eastern Cape.
Over 400 initiates have died over the last six years.
Many of the deaths were reported in areas administered by traditional leaders.
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.
“This ancient rite of passage should never be allowed to become synonymous with death and serious injury,’’ Ramaphosa said.
South Africa, he said, will introduce the Customary Initiation Bill to streamline and regulate circumcision.
“We are happy with the progress on the Customary Initiation Bill and look forward to the finalisation of all the parliamentary processes so that the Bill can be passed into law,’’ said Ramaphosa.
Under the new law, municipalities will be expected to inspect properties used for initiation practices.
It is anticipated that once the bill is passed into law, it will assist greatly in bringing to an end the deaths of initiates.
According to Ramaphosa, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Zweli Mkhize had met with kings and other traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape province to explore ways of addressing initiation deaths while the Customary Initiation Bill is still being processed.