Maimed for life

Solomzi Bodoza, who lost his leg after being tortured at initiation school. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana
Solomzi Bodoza, who lost his leg after being tortured at initiation school. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Solomzi Bodoza was beaten with sticks and fists, his leg was chopped open with an axe and he was almost burnt alive.

In April six years ago, he was an 18-year-old initiate at a family-run initiation school in the village of Mphangana, Libode, in the Eastern Cape.

Those who tried to kill him were his mother’s brother and three of his cousins, who broke his leg in three places and left it to become infested with maggots. They later tried to kill him, and swore his fellow initiates to secrecy so that no one would find out what they had done.

Bodoza’s is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong at an initiation school. He doesn’t know if his traditional surgeon, or ingcibi, was registered with the Eastern Cape department of health.

He believes his ordeal was “petty revenge” for boyhood fights. He said that on his third day at the initiation school, one of his cousins asked him if he remembered once beating him up when they were little. That day, his cousins came over with a jug full of dagga.

“I had never smoked before and they forced us to smoke. When I refused to smoke, they started to assault me with sticks. I fought back. Then all three of them started to beat me up. I then smoked to stop them from assaulting me,” he said.

“Because I was not used to smoking, I choked and vomited. Then they continued to assault me. The next day, my uncle joined them. He came into the initiation school and also assaulted me because my cousins had told him that I was not cooperating.”

Bodoza said the ikhankatha (traditional nurse), who was also his traditional surgeon, tried to intervene, but in vain.

They beat him on the ankle of his right leg with a stick and, when it swelled up, they used hot water to reduce the swelling.

“On the fourth day, the beatings continued and I tried to fight back. They hit me with an axe on my left leg, breaking it in three different places. I begged them to allow me to go to hospital, but they refused,” he said.

His condition deteriorated.

“I told them my leg was rotten. They used a spray meant for horse wounds on me. Every time they sprayed me, I experienced incredible pain. My leg had maggots in it,” he said.

A man from the village visited the ibhoma (initiation school) and said that Bodoza must be taken to hospital, but one of his cousins stood up and said: “The dog must die at once.”

He then tried to strangle Bodoza.

“When that did not work, they put a rope around my neck and tied it to the roof. Below my feet, they made a fire. The rope broke and I fell into the fire, but managed to crawl away to the side. They still planned to kill me.”

A week later, when his cousins left the initiation school to go and buy alcohol, his older sister visited him to bring him some fruit.

“I was covered with a blanket at the time. My sister thought I was just sleeping. But when my fellow initiates started crying, my sister knew something was wrong. She removed the blanket and saw the state I was in. She screamed and went out to ask for help. An ambulance was called and I was taken to St Barnabas Hospital in Libode. I was unconscious for four weeks,” he said.

“When I regained consciousness, I was in the high-care unit of the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha. I stayed in hospital until November.”

Bodoza’s left leg had been amputated.

Solomzi Bodoza, whose leg was amputated after he was tortured at initiation school. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

“The first thing I did when I regained consciousness was try to feel my leg because I knew I had been injured. But I could only feel up to above the knee. There was nothing below that. The rest of my leg wasn’t there. I didn’t know what to say. I was devastated.”

In the RDP house that he rents in Libode’s Thabo Mbeki Township, Bodoza still dreams of becoming a doctor or a teacher and, as the eldest son, still carries the aspirations of his family. His attackers are free men. Criminal charges brought against them were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

When Bodoza returned home from hospital, they continued to torment him.

“My uncle was drunk on the Christmas day of that same year and said he wanted to finish me off.

“One of my cousins once remarked, when he saw me battling along in my wheelchair, that they had done me a favour because now I was getting a disability grant – all thanks to them,” he said.

Bodoza said initiates should be careful when choosing an initiation school.

“Young boys should not bow to peer pressure. They must not go to an initiation school without informing their families. They must also make sure they go for the mandatory medical circumcision check-up before undertaking the rite. And do things properly and not allow bad things to happen to them,” he said.


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