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May 22 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress criticized the slow pace of a police investigation into the death of 35 young men during traditional initiation ceremonies.

Twenty-nine boys and young men 13 years to 21 years old died in the eastern Mpumalanga province during this year’s rituals that involve circumcisions, police spokesman Colonel Leonard Hlati said in a phone interview today. Another six died in the northern Limpopo province, according to the ANC.

“While we are fully supportive of the practice of initiation, we believe it should not be a death sentence to so many young people,” the ANC said in an e-mailed statement today.

Every year, thousands of boys participate in initiation ceremonies in South Africa, where they undergo a series of trials as a rite of passage into manhood.

In 2009 and 2010, 145 boys died because of complications related to their circumcision, and another 1,200 were hospitalized, according to a 2010 report by the Johannesburg-based Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, a government group.

Poorly carried out circumcisions can lead to infection and penile amputation, the report said.

The police are taking witness statements before turning the case over to the National Prosecution Authority, Hlati said.

Parliament’s health committee said the deaths were unnecessary and questioned whether correct procedures were taken during the circumcisions.

“Initiates are supposed to undergo tests to establish whether or not they are in good condition to be circumcised,” the lawmakers said in a statement this week. “There must also be provision of medical support in case of emergencies at the initiation schools.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at

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