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 conference today.
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 and neglect.
“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 this year.
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 around initiations.
In April, Cabinet approved the draft policy on the customary practice of initiation in South Africa. – News24