Initiation deaths – no arrests yet

2013-06-08 14:22

Mpumalanga police have sent some of the dockets containing their investigations into the recent spate of initiation school deaths to the director of public prosecutions for a decision.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Leonard Hlathi could not, however, confirm exactly how many of the 28 dockets had been submitted.

“All I can say is that our investigations are continuing. We have not arrested anyone yet. Some of the dockets have been sent for a decision,” Hlathi told City Press.

He said the current death toll still stood at 28.

The deaths occurred at Mpumalanga initiation schools of the Ndebele ethnic group in KwaMhlanga, Verena, Siyabuswa, Belfast and Middelburg since the ingoma ritual – a passage to manhood – began in May.

Some of the schools were authorised by King Mabhoko III while others were, according to health MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini, illegal and the initiates were not screened by doctors prior to attending the ritual.

Congress of the People legislature member Zale Madonsela told the legislature on Tuesday last week that according to information she received on the ground the number of deaths in fact stood at 36 in the province.

The departments of health and of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) did not dispute Madonsela’s statement. There is a growing concern that there is a cover-up of the true number of deaths.

Ascertaining the correct figures could be tricky since it is taboo in Ndebele culture to speak about deaths. The funerals of dead initiates are conducted at night and only close family members and school owners attend.

“In that case, the police have powers to exhume a body if they suspect foul play,” Hlathi said.

Unlike Limpopo, Mpumalanga does not have legislation that regulates initiation schools. Limpopo passed the Northern Province Circumcision Act in 1996.

Mpumalanga’s Ingoma Bill has been awaiting Premier David Mabuza’s signature since legislature passed it in November 2011.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Medupi Simasiku would not be drawn into commenting about how those responsible for the deaths will be prosecuted in the absence of requisite laws in Mpumalanga.

“It will be very immature, if not pre-emptive, to highlight our position in cases that are still under investigation,” Simasiku said. “We definitely cannot make any informed comment or respond to your questions at this stage until such time the dockets of these deaths are submitted for a decision.”

The other Ndebele leader, King Makhosonke II, has called for a national initiation schools law framework, which provinces should use to operate within.

“That act should be clear who has a right to authorise ingoma and what must be done if there’s a problem. The ritual is not a business and it shouldn’t become one,” King Makhosonke II said.

Meanwhile, six initiates have died in Limpopo at schools authorised by King Mabhoko III and Chief Poni Mahlangu.

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