On a tour of the Eastern Cape this week, Deputy Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Obed Bapela spoke about a “looming national crisis” following the alarming number of deaths of initiates in the province.
By Friday, the number of boys who had died around the country during the winter initiation season had risen to 27. Of those, 22 died in the Eastern Cape, two in Limpopo, one in Mpumalanga and two in North West.
“Since the beginning of the season, we are losing an initiate every day. The official initiation season was only launched on June 21, but already we have lost so many lives; we are counting bodies,” Bapela said.
Accompanied by a number of village chiefs and monitoring teams, including nurses and doctors, Bapela visited rescue centres, hospitals and amabhoma (initiation schools) in the Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo region, where 14 boys had died, with 145 rescued and hospitalised.
“Our plan was to have zero deaths, but we are losing the battle due to illegal schools mushrooming everywhere in all the provinces,” said Bapela.
In the OR Tambo region, there are 511 legal schools, but 144 illegal schools have been discovered. Bapela said 250 illegal schools had been closed down in Limpopo.
“We want to use Cinga Maphetshane’s case as an example. His is just pure murder because he was assaulted in an initiation school. We hope that his co-initiates and members of the community who have information can testify as witnesses,” he said.
Bapela said more than 200 people were arrested for running illegal initiation schools in the country.
At the St Barnabas Hospital in Libode, where the facility had run out of space and was forced to build a makeshift ibhoma outside, Bapela heard how one initiate rescued from an illegal initiation school was admitted with his penis “falling off”.
At St Barnabas Hospital, initiates as young as 12 had been admitted after being rescued from illegal initiation schools.
At Holy Cross Hospital in Flagstaff, which admitted 20 initiates, a distraught 13-year-old cried for his mother.
“I want to see my mother. Where is my mother? Why has she not come to fetch me?” he cried.