Parents must report illegal initiation schools and not allow "thugs" to kill children in pursuit of profit, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.
"Please regard it as a national duty... that we cannot allow thugs to kill our children to chase money," he told reporters in Pretoria.
Initiations were the primary responsibility of the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA (Contralesa), and the House of Traditional Leaders.
Traditional practice and customs
The health department's role was to provide health screening for initiates, as many deaths were attributable to pre-existing conditions.
Contralesa could choose private doctors, to be paid by the state, to help with initiations. The doctors needed to understand traditional practice and customs.
Read: In South Africa, old custom becomes health crisis
"We [the health department] accepted that. They will know that these are the people who are practitioners of this culture, who is also a doctor," Motsoaledi said.
Roving doctors contracted by the health department would help initiation schools and initiates in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and the Eastern Cape.
Last year, when eight doctors worked in Limpopo between July and August, 22,325 circumcisions were performed without a single death.
"You don't even remember a single death... that is why no one has heard about it," Motsoaledi said.
Important rite of passage
It was hoped around 200,000 circumcisions would be performed this winter, when most initiations took place, and summer.
Motsoaledi said initiations were an important rite of passage for many South African boys into manhood. It had been practised for centuries.
Earlier Deputy Traditional Affairs Minister Obed Bapela said four initiates had died since the beginning of the winter initiation season this year.
"The three people who died in Mpumalanga – one died... at Leslie as a result of dehydration, and then the other two in an area called Verena."
The two in Verena died from diabetes and pneumonia. They were on holiday in the area at the time and pressured to get initiated by other boys. Police were investigating the matter.
Dehydration and hunger
The 17-year-old Eastern Cape initiate succumbed to dehydration and hunger. He had gone to an illegal initiation school.
"A case has been opened. The name of the traditional surgeon is known," said Bapela, who believed an arrest was imminent.
"This could have been prevented."
The National Prosecuting Authority said last week that 23 people would be prosecuted for the deaths of young men during last year's initiation season in Mpumalanga.
At least 30 boys died at seven initiation schools in Kwaggafontein, KwaMhlanga, Verena, Delmas, Siyabuswa, Belfast, and Middelburg.
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