By Colleta Dewa
Johannesburg – The South African government has condemned the operation of illegal initiation schools after three underage boys died during the initiation process.
The country’s department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department (Cogta) said it is on high alert and concerned as it anticipates more boys will be heading to the bush.
Cogta spokesperson, Mamkeli Ngam, said the government is working closely with other stakeholders to ensure that no other child will lose life at the hands of these illegal initiation instructors.
“We call on parents and traditional leaders to work together to ensure that whoever is circumcising these boys illegally is arrested because two of them were underage, the legal age limit is 18. Whoever circumcised them violated the Customary Male Initiation Act,” he said.
Ngam added that as schools have closed, his department has sent monitoring teams to observe the situation in the initiation bushes. He said parents should be more vigilant and work closely with the police to ensure the safety of children, especially during this school holiday.
“Parents are failing us, they are not taking responsibility. If your son does not come back home, go and open a case of abduction. But parents in these instances do not do anything when they find out that their boys are circumcised illegally. We are currently in Enyandeni, which is a hotspot area and we have discovered that the majority of boys who have been circumcised are underage,” he added.
Police have already arrested three illegal traditional surgeons in connection with the death of the three boys. However, the government is surprised by the fact that no parental consent has been obtained yet.
"At the moment, we are still waiting for post-mortem results from the department of health. Our view is that the two underage boys went to the bush with a lack of supervision," added Ngam.
Last year, 11 initiates died during the initiation season. Six of them died when their initiation school huts caught fire. The initiation ritual has been performed for ages in the country, but it now has been tainted due to people who abused the system, with illegal initiation schools killing people.
The boys do not undergo the required premedical examination to determine their state of health, making them vulnerable to complications. According to the government, some of the boys also suffer serious abuse in the camps.
“In certain cases, there is no care for the boys. They get assaulted and deprived of water and food," said Ngam. The ritual was traditionally regarded as an educational institution where initiates were taught about social responsibilities and conduct.
These traditional values have diminished and the emphasis is now placed on circumcision and on the physical ordeal. Teachings are often omitted, and the integrity of the ritual is further undermined by harmful attitudes.
Six-year-old abducted for initiation
In a separate incident last week, a six-year-old boy was allegedly abducted at the Manninburg section of Ga-Kgapane in the Limpopo province and taken to an initiation school.
Information availed to The Southern Times suggests that the boy was playing with his friend on the street when men in a grey Ford Bantam bakkie approached them and drove away with him.
The boy’s father, who was not aware when the incident happened, said the man from the initiation school informed them the boy had been admitted to the mountain school and that they should bring him food and blankets.
The victim’s father opened a case of abduction with the police at Ga-Kgapane Police Station.
Chief Malesela Dikgale Chairperson of the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders said no person below the age of 12 should be admitted to an initiation school, in terms of Initiation Schools Regulations.
“As the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders, we will not rest until the perpetrators who have violated initiation school regulations are brought to book. We will work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that the rights of young people are not violated and to prevent the unnecessary loss of young lives in these schools,” said Dikgale.
Criminals take advantage
There have also been reports that criminals have invaded the initiation culture, turning the initiation schools into recruitment places for gangsters in different areas.
A close relationship has emerged between unmanaged initiation schools, youth criminality and interpersonal violence. Worrying issues are the high number of school dropouts following initiation, and alcohol and substance abuse among initiates.
Sources allege that gangs such as Wrong Turns in Sebokeng, Mopheme in Bophelong, Diamonds in Boipatong, Mambasa, Alaska and Born to Kill in Boitumelo were mostly formed at such schools.
It is reported that the youngsters have become drug addicts who terrorise the community, rob them of their belongings, gang-rape young girls and assault their parents.
“The kids go to initiation schools being normal children, but return home as gangsters. These gangsters have gone to a point whereby if one of the boys likes your daughter, they just walk into your house with guns, abduct and rape her. The problem started in 2011 and the community has been complaining to the municipality and the police,” said a source.
Some analysts say the hierarchy in initiation schools leads to dangerous situations. Initiates are only allowed to speak with their traditional attendant.
They are not supposed to complain about pain, even though this can be a sign of a medical complication such as increasing pain when the penile blood supply is impaired.
Marijuana and alcohol abuse among attendants and so-called helpers is the norm that often leads to physical abuse of the initiates.