As the winter initiation season gets under way, Nkosi Sipho
Mahlangu is determined to ensure the safety of the young men who attend
initiation schools, and has said that parents who send their children to illegal
initiation schools should be held liable.
The deputy chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders
and the head of the National Initiation Task Team was speaking at a press
The initiation custom is one of the foundations of Xhosa life, and
thousands of young men participate in the tradition each year.
Last year, 101 initiates died and there had been about 1000 penile
amputations in the last 10 years, he said.
Mahlangu said the law had to be stringent for parents who knowingly
sent their children to unregistered initiation schools, or refused to give
information regarding these schools once their children were there.
“They are an accomplice to a crime. They are participating in
organised crime,” he said.
Mahlangu said the parents who refused medical treatment for their
children should also be held liable.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van
Rooyen said the department was clamping down on the illegal schools. They had
created an initiation hotline, where people who witnessed abuse of the cultural
practice could report incidents. These included kidnapping of initiates, assault
“Many would agree that the safety of our young men and boys is not
the sole responsibility of government, but a societal responsibility. Our anger
about the many lives that were destroyed due to botched procedures should move
us to more action than before,” he said.
Van Rooyen said they would continue working with the justice
cluster to ensure that people who kidnapped young men and opened schools for
commercialisation were dealt with.
Van Rooyen’s deputy, Obed Bapela said, of the 101 deaths, 44 had
been during the winter season and 56 in summer.
The leading causes of initiate deaths included bleeding out and
dehydration, the department said.
Most deaths occurred in the Eastern Cape (40) and
Bapela said they would focus their campaign on the Eastern Cape
The National Prosecuting Authority said these illegal schools were
part of organised crime syndicates.
It was difficult to prosecute, however, as parents and initiates
often declined to give evidence.
Van Rooyen said last month that a traditional surgeon had been
sentenced in the Witbank Magistrates’ Court to five years in jail for the death
of an initiate. He said they were now working on strengthening legislation
In April, Cabinet approved the draft policy on the customary
practice of initiation in South Africa. – News24