Botched circumcision procedures in remote parts of South Africa are killing young men to such an extent that it has been labelled ‘genocide’ by a local health official.

The initiation, from youth to adulthood, is carried out as a cultural tradition across the country.

But this year alone, 39 young men have died from unsafe operations in the Eastern Cape, and over the last seven years, there have been 462 reported deaths.

The problem has reached such crisis levels that the Eastern Cape’s health authority is looking into setting up facilities manned by surgeons and other medical staff to safely carry out the procedure.

Sizwe Kupelo, spokesman for the EC Health Department, told Dispatch Online: ‘The custom has nothing to do with an actual surgical procedure, it will remain a custom but it’s the cutting of the boys that is important. How this is done needs to be closely looked at as some boys are getting infected and ending up in hospital.

‘This is very close to genocide,’ he said.

This view was mirrored by senior traditional leader Ndumiso Hlongwa who was quoted in Sowetan Live as saying the death rate could be called ‘genocide as our people are slashed to death in these mountains’.

The main cause of hospital admission is septicaemia. In the last seven years, 5,000 young men have been admitted to hospitals in South Africa suffering complications after their circumcision procedure.

It is also the main cause of death.

For those who survive, they must live with the embarrassment and humiliation of being permanently deformed.

There is also a strong belief still, in parts of South Africa, that those who succumb to problems during initiation are not real men, according to survivor Thando Mgqolozana, who has shrugged aside mockery to write about his experiences.

Now, in a bid to prevent and epidemic of septicaemia among young men, the authorities are getting involved.

At the start of the initiation season, the Eastern Cape Health Department allocated 20m rands (£1.32million) to curb initiation deaths.

Some of it was used to assist the monitoring and evaluation of the process, but there was little impact on the death toll, according to Dispatch Online.

The head of the Eastern Cape’s health department, Sicelo Gqobana, now wants to look into placing permanent facilities to specialise in carrying out the procedure, especially where the death toll is the highest.

He points out the dire health economics of the current situation, with every patient admitted to hospital costing the authority 1,000 rands (£65.90).

The number of men dying every year is also increasing, so the need to implement a plan to prevent this ‘genocide’ is urgent.

Kansas Shezi, parent of deceased 14-year-old initiate Siniko Shezi, told Dispatch Online: ‘Anything that can help us will be great. We are losing children.’

South African boy in initiation robes and paints.

South African boy in initiation robes and paint.

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