JOHANNESBURG, June 26: South African police have rushed 33 boys to hospital after five others died earlier this week in botched circumcision ceremonies, bringing the total to 51 being treated, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Anneline Prinsloo said that the teenagers were treated after attending a so-called “bush school” about 60 kilometres southeast of Johannesburg, where they were beaten and exposed naked in sub-freezing temperatures, many of them with septic wounds to their genitals.

Eighteen boys were hospitalized on Tuesday, discovered by police after a massive search in the hills outside the township of Ratanda near Heidelberg, after a boy died on his way to hospital on Monday, and the bodies of four others were found the next day. The boys were all attending an initiation school.

On Wednesday, police took the 33 boys for hospital treatment from another initiation school, Prinsloo said.

“They have been diagnosed with pneumonia, lung infections, bronchitis, two of them are very seriously dehydrated, and infections were reported in the genital area and where the boys had been beaten,” she said.

The group of Sotho-speaking boys had been attending the schools since the beginning of June to undergo their initiation, seen in many black cultures in South Africa as the rite of passage to manhood and considered obligatory.

Rituals often entail candidates being stripped and sent to live as a group in the bush before a public circumcision, and then again living in the group before rejoining society with a man’s status once their wounds have healed.

Police have taken in four of the school’s leaders for questioning, but no charges have been laid.

The apparently unperturbed leader of the school denied to a Johannesburg-based daily, The Star, that the initiates had been assaulted, saying it was the first time people had died at the school.

“These boys come here to become men. They are circumcized and we teach them how to behave — how to treat a woman, how to handle a family and how to have discipline,” he told the newspaper.

The leader, who is 19 and was not named, said that holding the initiation school outdoors in winter was part of the growing up process.

Said the initiation school teacher, “You lie outside here in the cold and you tell yourself you mustn’t be soft like a woman. You can’t cry or shout.”

In South Africa, hundreds of young men end up in hospital every year after botched circumcision ceremonies. Some die, while others are disfigured for life.

In December last year in the Eastern Cape, at least one boy had to undergo skin grafts because his penis had been badly circumcized.

The country’s human rights watchdog, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in October last year, launched an investigation into male circumcision to develop laws governing the practice.

Legislation that will allow only registered circumcisers to practise will be debated later this year.

But even traditional leaders are divided on how the legislation should be applied.—AFP

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