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Culture: Twenty-one Boys Die in South Africa While Undergoing Circumcision

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At least 21 boys have died in South Africa while undergoing circumcision in the bi-annual ceremony which began in November, authorities have said.

Twenty-one Boys Die in South Africa While Undergoing Circumcision
These teens from the Xhosa tribe wear traditional garb and paint after their coming-of-age circumcision ceremony near Qunu, South Africa. CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

Twice every year, A fairly large number of Xhosa boys go through a coming of age ritual at the end of which they are regarded as men. Not until they have endured the physical pain of the traditional circumcision scalpel and have gone through the social experience of spending several days in the bush with colleagues of more or less the same age can they command the respect of the Xhosa community.

Seventeen young boys died in Eastern Cape province while two others died in the North West and Western Cape, privately-owned EWN news site reports.

The deaths happened despite a crackdown on illegal initiation schools which have resulted in deaths in the past.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) blamed the government for the deaths, saying there was “a lack of support and resources in programmes aimed at reducing the number of casualties”.

Contralesa spokesperson Xolile Ndevu said the government should declare initiation-related deaths “a national disaster”.

Eastern Cape co-operative governance and traditional affairs spokesperson Mamkeli Ngam said families should do more to curb the deaths.

“It is not government’s responsibility to ensure that people go to the bush, it’s a family issue, a parental issue and a community issue working hand-in-hand with traditional leaders,” he said.

An investigation has been launched into circumstances leading to the deaths, Contralesa officials said.

In the last 10 years there have been more than 1,000 penile amputations, Xinhua news agency reports.

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