Ini­ti­ate death toll hits 12

CityPress - - News - LUBABALO NGCUKANA lubabalo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za

For the past three years, nurse Si­boniwe Mahleka (40) has been criss-cross­ing Pon­doland, res­cu­ing as many ini­ti­ates as he can. Since last Mon­day, Mahleka, a mem­ber of the Nyan­deni Mon­i­tor­ing Fo­rum in Li­bode and Ngqe­leni in the East­ern Cape, has been trav­el­ling in gov­ern­ment bakkies, ex­am­in­ing boys in both le­gal and il­le­gal ini­ti­a­tion schools.

Since then, he has re­ferred five ini­ti­ates to St Barn­abas Hospi­tal in Li­bode. Not a sin­gle one in his area has died.

On Thurs­day, East­ern Cape Health MEC Dr Pumza Dyan­tyi said 10 ini­ti­ates had died since the sum­mer ini­ti­a­tion sea­son be­gan on Novem­ber 18. By late Fri­day, the death toll had risen to 12. An es­ti­mated 40 000 boys have un­der­gone the cir­cum­ci­sion rit­ual.

Deaths con­tinue de­spite R20 mil­lion worth of gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tions, in­clud­ing 35 bakkies fer­ry­ing doc­tors and nurses such as Mahleka to ini­ti­a­tion schools around the prov­ince, as well as school aware­ness cam­paigns.

“We thought our ef­forts would pre­vent deaths, but it looks like we need to sit down with our part­ners and de­vise new strate­gies. We have over the years put in place strate­gies and re­sources, and have con­tracted male nurses and doc­tors, but the big­gest prob­lem for us is that our hospi­tals are be­ing in­un­dated with th­ese ini­ti­ates. They are re­ally strained,” Dyan­tyi said.

Mahleka works along­side War­rant Of­fi­cer Makhosonke Gabuza and a group of chiefs led by Nkosi Jongisebe Gwadiso. To­gether, they have shut down il­le­gal schools and in­te­grated ini­ti­ates into nearby le­gal ib­homa.

Hail­ing from Du­mani vil­lage in Ngqe­leni, Mahleka of­ten wakes up at 2am and is on the road un­til 11pm.

“Be­com­ing a nurse was a dream come true for me. My pas­sion is sav­ing peo­ple’s lives. A nurse is the first hope for any­one who is ill and needs help. We have got to pro­vide that help with­out fail be­cause we are deal­ing with peo­ple’s lives,” he said.

On Thurs­day, City Press trav­elled with Mahleka and the mon­i­tor­ing team to KwaZaka vil­lage, where a tra­di­tional healer had been treat­ing his 12-year-old fos­ter son with tra­di­tional medicine at an il­le­gal ini­ti­a­tion school at his home.

The boy was scream­ing and had to be pinned down so that his sep­tic pe­nis could be treated. He was res­cued and sent to a le­gal ini­ti­a­tion school.

“I am not go­ing to rest un­til we fi­nally beat ini­ti­ate deaths in Nyan­deni. In my own vil­lage, peo­ple call me a traitor and all sorts of names be­cause they are op­posed to their boys be­ing touched by a med­i­cal nurse or taken to hospi­tal. I don’t know whether they would rather have their chil­dren die,” Mahleka said.

“The stigma at­tached to ini­ti­ates who are taken to hospi­tal and can­not com­plete the course and be­come men is what is killing th­ese young men. I wish peo­ple would ac­cept med­i­cal as­sis­tance when it is needed. We take ini­ti­ates to hospi­tal as a last re­sort – only when their lives are at stake.”

Mahleka, who works at Nku­man­deni Clinic in Ngqe­leni dur­ing the rest of the year, said he had drained 1.2 litres of urine through a catheter from a 17-year-old ini­ti­ate at a le­gal school at Mam­feng­wini vil­lage, Li­bode. The le­gal age for tra­di­tional cir­cum­ci­sion is 18.

“The tra­di­tional nurse claimed there was noth­ing wrong with the ini­ti­ate and that he was able to uri­nate. But I re­alised they were ly­ing. He had an in­fec­tion and I had to re­fer him to St Barn­abas Hospi­tal,” Mahleka said.

The ini­ti­ates Mahleka sends to hospi­tal com­monly suf­fer from uri­nary re­ten­tion, while oth­ers with sep­tic penises suf­fer block­ages that pre­vent them from uri­nat­ing.

“The prob­lem is lack of wound care. It is the filthy prac­tices, whereby amakhankatha [tra­di­tional nurses] ne­glect their du­ties. Th­ese tra­di­tional nurses also touch many dif­fer­ent ini­ti­ates with­out wash­ing their hands,” he said.

Dyan­tyi said Mthatha Gen­eral Hospi­tal and St Barn­abas were the two in­sti­tu­tions fac­ing the big­gest in­flux of pa­tients.

“They ad­mit­ted 19 ini­ti­ates in one go at Mthatha Gen­eral. I’m sure there are more by now. At St Barn­abas, the fig­ures were around the same.”

Dyan­tyi said her depart­ment had con­tracted 46 male nurses to work in wards full of ini­ti­ates to re­lieve the pres­sure on per­ma­nent staff.

While the post-mortems have not yet been fi­nalised, early in­di­ca­tions are that most ini­ti­ates died from re­nal fail­ure and de­hy­dra­tion. Oth­ers per­ished from sep­ti­caemia caused by in­fected wounds. “All th­ese is­sues point to the prob­lems of il­le­gal ini­ti­a­tion schools be­cause you do not ex­pect to have deaths from sep­ti­caemia at le­gal schools,” she said. “The deaths are fewer than at this time last year, but they are still too many, par­tic­u­larly be­cause we went all out to raise aware­ness on com­mu­nity ra­dio. One won­ders what we must do.” In Chris Hani Dis­trict Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, where the sum­mer sea­son was launched, at least four ini­ti­ates died – the high­est fig­ure in a sin­gle dis­trict. Dur­ing last sum­mer’s sea­son, 17 ini­ti­ates died there out of 46 fa­tal­i­ties in the prov­ince. “The big­gest prob­lem we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in Chris Hani is that peo­ple are re­fus­ing to be at­tended to by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. We thought that be­cause we launched this sea­son there, peo­ple would be aware,” Dyan­tyi said. She hoped that with the Cus­tom­ary Male Ini­ti­a­tion Prac­tice Bill signed into law by East­ern Cape Premier Phu­mulo Ma­su­alle, il­le­gal tra­di­tional sur­geons would be brought to book. “It’s go­ing to help be­cause, in the past, there was a re­luc­tance to say a tra­di­tional sur­geon messed up.” What else do you think the East­ern Cape gov­ern­ment should do to pre­vent ini­ti­ate deaths? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word INI­TI­A­TION and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: LUBABALO NGCUKANA

LIFESAVER Nurse Si­boniwe Mahleka ex­am­ines a 12-year-old ini­ti­ate at an il­le­gal ini­ti­a­tion school in Ngqe­leni, East­ern Cape. The boy had to be pinned down be­cause he was in so much pain

Dr Pumza Dyan­tyi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.