Autopsy reports show that some of the 30 initiates who died last month in the Eastern Cape were assaulted by traditional surgeons.
The Eastern Cape minister for health Sicelo Gqobana, Premier Noxolo Kiviet and provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Celiwe Binta agreed that an investigation is necessary following the findings of the autopsies showing that, aside from rotten private parts and renal failure, some boys were beaten up and burnt with cigarettes.
“Although the autopsy reports indicate that some initiates died of renal failure, there is also evidence that some were severely assaulted. The investigation will determine if the assaults contributed in any way to their deaths. We are talking about possible cases of murder here,” Sizwe Kupelo, spokesperson for the provincial department of health, told the Mail & Guardian.
Lieutenant General Binta confirmed that different cases are being investigated by the South African Police Service, including murder, assault and unlawful circumcision throughout the province.
At least three traditional surgeons have since been arrested for unlawful circumcisions. The department and the police are profiling surgeons in the region to identify the culprits. A detailed report is also being prepared for provincial cabinet.
An additional 300 initiates have been hospitalised and are in a condition Kupelo describes as "gruesome and scary". Some boys have been castrated, although the number is unspecified. "Some of these boys’ private parts are rotten. We are witnessing scary conditions in various hospitals around the Transkei. The doctors that are treating these boys might need counselling once this season is over," he added.
The Times reported that Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said these iIllegal initiation schools have turned the circumcision culture into "something criminal".
"The mushrooming of initiation schools is seen every single day in the Eastern Cape. Hooligans ... tsotsis take advantage and prey on this custom,” he said.
The department, as part of their on-going intervention, has dispatched cars and officials to raid all the illegal initiation schools and rescue boys. So far at least 10 boys have been rescued and are recovering in hospital.
Kupelo said the situation is so barbaric that boys as young as nine are being initiated. "These acts of barbarism are being perpetrated by greedy people who are interested in making money and who have total disregard for human life."
The department, traditional leaders and local government representatives are working together to monitor schools.
A lot of pressure has also been exerted on the healthcare system in the Transkei following the admission of close to 300 boys. Hospitals have been crippled by this influx and are unable to treat all of them because of insufficient personnel and resources.
“We are now running initiation schools inside our hospitals and this is not our mandate. We do not have enough beds and unfortunately they are all in critical condition. We are trying to avoid having to castrate any of them,” said Kupelo.
He adds that the situation is so severe that tents have to be pitched on hospital yards to create more space for treatment and alternative, non-hospital buildings have also been used.
Last year, close to 50 initiates lost their lives in the Eastern Cape. This is despite the fact that police officers, community policing forums and chiefs help with monitoring the situation by visiting initiation schools to check for compliance of rules and regulations.