Jun. 3, 2013 (TSR) – South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, has maintained that the deaths of teenage boys at initiation schools are due to people using the cultural practice for financial gain reported by local news.
Speaking at the Tshwane University of Technology at the launch of a voluntary medical male circumcision campaign aimed at students, Dr. Motsoaledi said the tradition used to be conducted by kings and senior traditional leaders who would ensure that the process was carried out safely because it would be a sign of weakness if a young boy died at their school.
“No king or traditional leader would have a death within their schools because it was a sign of weakness. Things have changed in the modern times. People have started to use the tradition for … commercial undertaking and no longer a tradition in number of places,” Dr Motsoaledi said.
“They want the money. We know they are charging a lot of money. It is fast money and that’s what we are observing here. The culture done by traditional leaders protects their children,” he added.
Medical male circumcision is now considered an effective HIV prevention measure, which reduces the risk of HIV infection by 50 to 60%.
The minister said there were regulations in place in Limpopo, North West, Free States and Eastern Cape provinces, where the tradition was being practised. In Mpumalanga, the regulations were still in a draft form. However, the province has the Ingoma Forum, which deals with such matters.
He said there were 38 initiation schools in Mpumalanga which were recognised by the Ingoma Forum and the deaths of 134 initiates had occurred at schools outside of those that are recognised by the Ingoma Forum.
Motsoaledi said the deaths of initiates in Mpumalanga were due to excessive bleeding, dehydration, hypothermia because of extremely cold temperatures, strangulation and a lack of nutritious food.
“At least 20 of the initiates in Mpumalanga died from excessive bleeding and hypothermia. It happened because they never followed the rules that are there.”
He said schools were deaths occurred could not be called traditional initiation schools.
“There is no tradition here in South Africa, which encourages unnecessary deaths like that. There no tradition encouraging the death of young people, no one should die in the name of tradition…it can’t be allowed,” said a concerned Motsoaledi.
The Initiation Schools Act states that trained doctors, nurses and health workers must go to the initiation school and ensure that the young boys are safe.
It also says that health inspectors must examine the area to make sure that the initiates do not have underlying diseases, are screened for high blood pressure and HIV.
It also states that teenage boys must wait until their school is closed for the holidays before attending initiation school.
“It’s outrageous that anybody should die in Limpopo in May because the Act states clearly that traditional circumcision will only be during winter vacation when schools are closed.”
He said the Act had been developed not only by the department but with the assistance of traditional leaders.
One could not launch a traditional initiation school as an ordinary person, one has to be of royal descent. “But now people hide behind democracy and come and launch it here in the city and claim that it’s their culture… its wrong and it’s against the culture.”
Responding to accusations that the department is interfering with the tradition of initiation, Motsoaledi cautioned that unlike in the past there was now the threat of HIV.
He stressed out the need to train people running the initiation schools.
“The situation has changed from the olden days when we didn’t have HIV and AIDS. That’s why they need to work with us. In KwaZulu-Natal, you cannot do the medical male circumcision without being checked for HIV so that one knows what you are dealing with,” he said.
Turning to the voluntary medical male circumcision campaign, Motsoaledi warned students that while medical male circumcision is now considered an effective HIV prevention measure, which reduces the risk of HIV infection by 50 to 60%, it did not replace the use of condoms.
He announced that the department was going to increase the number of condom distribution to one billion.
He said as part of the campaign, males would be counselled, get tested and told about the importance of using condom before being circumcised.
“The future is bright for all of us, provided you change your lifestyle,” he said.
Director of Higher Education HIV/AIDS Programme, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia said that this year, they were planning to conduct 10 000 circumcisions in higher learning institutions.
He explained that where university clinics were fully equipped, student and staff may book for the procedure by a trained health professional under safe conditions and will receive pre-counselling and proper follow up care.
“Where universities do not have the facilities, students will be referred off campus to nearby government health facilities that are offering high volume service, supported by PEPFAR partners,” explained Dr Ahluwalia.
Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister, Mduduzi Manana, warned that being circumcised must not be viewed as a licence to have promiscuous relations.
“Voluntary medical male circumcision is just one part of a total strategy to combat HIV in the overlapping strategies, which include behavioural change and condom promotion and use.
“It is critical to take responsibility, this is our chance to prove that we are responsible for our loved ones. It is a bold step towards achieving zero new infection. The message remains one: prevention, prevention, prevention,” said Manana.
TUT Vice Chancellor, Professor Nthabiseng Ogude said the procedure has the potential to change the lives of students, pledging the university’s support for the vision.
During the launch, Motsoaledi performed a circumcision.