Unscrupulous people are abusing the traditional ritual of circumcision to earn quick money, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said.
He said post mortems had shown that the death of Mpumalanga initiates were a result of preventable diseases such as haemorrhage and hypothermia.
"At least 20 of them in Mpumalanga died of haemorrhage and hypothermia. We know that these things happen when you don’t [take precautions]. They never involved any health worker or followed rules," he said in Pretoria.
"They just went to do it [circumcisions] and were surprised when people were dying. They want the money and we know they are charging [the initiates' parents] a lot."
He said the sprouting of new initiation schools across the country was because "culturepreneurs" were profiting. "It’s fast money. That is exactly what we have observed. They can hide behind culture, but we know the culture practised by [legitimate] traditional leaders protects children.
Cultural meaning to circumcision
"The culturepreneurs are moving from one place - making money - and they don’t care. That tradition [of circumcision] was meant to transform a boy into a man; how do you transform an eight-year-old?"
He said there was no need for a commission of inquiry, as had been mooted by some members of Parliament, to investigate the death of initiates in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, as the causes were known.
"In Mpumalanga, there is a forum for these people involved in initiation. The 104 initiation schools where these deaths are happening are not known by anyone," he said.
"It is now a clear commercial undertaking. There is no tradition in South Africa which encourages unnecessary death like that. Nobody should die in the name of tradition. It can’t be allowed."
Last week, Mpumalanga police said 27 boys had died in initiation schools in the past two weeks. At the time Colonel Leonard Hlathi said 26 of the deaths were being investigated as murder cases and one as an inquest.
Six people died in Limpopo
Police said there had been six deaths related to initiation schools in Limpopo.
On Thursday, Motsoaledi launched a voluntary medical male circumcision campaign at the Tshwane University of Technology’s main campus, west of Pretoria.
Motsoaledi, who is a medical doctor, performed a circumcision at the university’s clinic on Thursday afternoon.