"The Eastern Cape department of health is extremely concerned about the increasing number of young boys dying in the bush," said spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo.
"Over the past four days five boys have died in the bush. An autopsy conducted on three of them indicated they suffered from gangrene which resulted in renal failure."
A 15-year-old boy also had to be castrated.
Kupelo said the circumcisions occurred at illegal schools in the Libode, Port St Johns, and Lusikisiki areas.
"In one instance in Libode, a man wearing a balaclava is alleged to have circumcised at least 37 boys," he said.
Those circumcised included boys as young as nine years old.
"The department describes the situation as not circumcision but acts of barbarism being perpetrated by greedy people who are interested in making money, and who have total disregard for human life."
An urgent meeting had been called between the department, traditional leaders, and local government representatives to discuss the situation.
Kupelo said the department was deploying resources, including 4x4s, to the affected areas to engage in aggressive monitoring to prevent further loss of life. – Sapa