Illegal initiation schools have turned the circumcision culture into "something criminal", says Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in the Times.
"The mushrooming of initiation schools is seen every single day in Eastern Cape. Hooligans … tsotsis take advantage and prey on this custom … It has turned into something criminal and no longer has anything to do with culture. Young lives are being destroyed," said the minister in Monday's report.
The Eastern Cape health department said at the weekend that 30 initiates died from circumcision-related injuries so far and nearly 300 were hospitalised.
"Some parents are blackmailed into paying for their children's safety," said Motsoaledi.
"Because of the belief that children must be left at these initiation schools, parents do not report them missing to the police in fear of going against tradition."
In June, the Mail & Guardian revealed government's lack of numbers around circumcision-related deaths and injuries.
There was national outrage in May when news emerged that 27 boys died during initiation in Mpumalanga province. President Jacob Zuma echoed the national outrage at the unnecessary loss of lives, saying: "It cannot be acceptable that every time young men reach this crucial time in their development, their lives are culled in the most painful of ways in the care of circumcision schools."
MPs defended cultural practices, called for the arrest of those responsible for the deaths, a clampdown on fly-by-night initiation schools and "culturepreneurs", and demanded better monitoring of the initiation process to ensure safe health practices.
But with poor record keeping at the outset, it was unclear whether the state has any sort of plan to prevent the death and mutilation of the boys who would be men.
At the time, Democratic Alliance spokesperson on traditional affairs George Boinamo pointed out that not all boys who are injured report to hospitals for treatment and that not all boys who die following traditional circumcision find their way to mortuaries.
"If an initiate dies at initiation schools, the culture is you don't bring the body home. The body is buried at the initiation school, in the bush wherever they are in the mountain. The death is not reported before the burial," he said. – Additional reporting by Faranaaz Parker