In a bizarre twist to the deaths of three initiates (abakhwetha) in the Eastern Cape last weekend, three relatives of the deceased have been arrested in connection with the triple murders.
The three suspects, Aviwe Hlalukana (27), Zuko Hlalukana (35) and Mkhuseli Hlalukana (37), made a brief appearance at the Tsomo Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, following their arrest during the week.
They were each charged with counts of murder and will appear again in court on Thursday for a formal bail application.
A family feud is suspected to be the reason for the killings of the three initiates last week at their initiation school in Tsomo.
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Khaya Thonjeni said police were continuing their investigation.
Thonjeni confirmed there were family relations between the three dead initiates and the three arrested men, but did not want to speculate on the reasons for the brutal killings.
However, it is suspected that the killings were revenge, following the murder of a man in the village prior to the boys’ going for traditional initiation.
“The investigation is ongoing and it will guide us on whether there could be any further arrests to be made in relation to the case,” said Thonjeni.
He said the suspects were found in possession of a 9mm Browning Pistol and one magazine containing 15 live rounds of ammunition, among other things, when they were arrested.
However, Thonjeni could not yet say whether these were linked to the murder of the three initiates.
He said the three initiates, Solulele Bululu (19), Elihle Thathi and Sakhe Nkwenkwezi (both 20), were found dead with gunshot wounds on their upper bodies last Saturday, inside a traditional initiation hut (ibhoma).
Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape were shocked by the incident, which contributed to the rise in the number of initiation deaths in the province during the December summer initiation season.
Since the start of this season on December 17, at least 12 initiates have died.
Two traditional surgeons (ingcibi) also died last month.
Mamkeli Ngam, provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs spokesperson, said other initiates died of dehydration, epilepsy and septicaemia.
Ngam mentioned that two initiates were suspected of having died of illnesses related to the Covid-19 coronavirus, although this was not yet confirmed.
Ngam said they were shocked by the killing of the three initiates as boys had never before been shot and killed in their initiation school.
“We have never seen a situation where someone would use the vulnerability of initiates and attack them in such a violent manner.
“Initiates are very vulnerable and are left to their own devices in most cases, where their priority is their road to recovery.
“It is for this reason that we always encourage parents to frequently visit initiation schools. This is a very shocking incident. We have never heard of such a barbaric act before,” Ngam said.
“Whatever differences are there, if the initiates were killed because of differences, people must try to resolve their problems peacefully without harming each other.”
Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, the provincial chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, said they were saddened by the tragic incident.
“We are happy that the alleged culprits have been found, and from the initial investigation it seems that there is a family feud involved,” said Nonkonyana.
“We are hopeful that there may be further arrests in connection with the case … We call on communities and everyone involved to assist the traditional leaders there to come to the bottom of this thing with the view of finding reconciliation to this family feud.
“There should be reconciliation of parties in order to restore peace there, and the respect of the law, which is essential to the development of our communities,” said Nonkonyana.
Ngam said two bogus traditional surgeons were arrested during the summer initiation season in the province for illegal circumcision and for running illegal initiation schools.
This week, Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane said monitoring teams were working with traditional leaders to check all the boys who had undergone the rite, before the initiation season was banned again.
He said that, when they complete their course and go back to their homes, there would be no festivities, as was the norm, as this could lead to new infections.
He said 4 878 initiates were tested for Covid-19, and 239 returned positive results and were placed in isolation.
“Sadly, we lost a number of initiates to a variety of complications that were not associated with Covid-19.
“These are deaths that should have been prevented from happening,” said Mabuyane.