Authorities on Tuesday said 18 boys and some young men (aged 17 to 20) died in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province while attending male circumcision initiation camps. Mamkeli Ngam, spokesman for the Eastern Cape Traditional Affairs Department, told dpa: “they died from a variety of causes including “dehydration, (Infection) and septicemia.’’
“One initiate committed suicide and another was burnt to death,’’ he added, noting the cause of the fire at the boy’s hut is still being investigated.
Every year teenagers from South Africa’s Xhosa tribal group undergo a two-week initiation period, where they are circumcised by traditional leaders.
Local South African media reported that countrywide 21 deaths occurred in connection with the rite.
It is believed to be a boy’s transition to manhood and is steeped in mystique, with the teens painted white and draped in blankets as they fast and live in straw huts in the wild mountains of the eastern Cape.
Deaths occur every year during the rite, either due to botched circumcisions, accidental amputations or infection and dehydration.
Experts have said that while skilled elders performed the cut in the past, they are now often done by quack doctors for money.
Ngam told dpa police were investigating this year’s deaths, which have all occurred since the initiation season started at the end of November.
In 2017, according to the spokesman, there were 14 deaths in the Eastern Cape.
“It is getting worse,’’ he said. “Some of these boys are being denied water. There’s this belief that if they don’t get water they will get stronger.’’