Thapelo Molebatsi, Bloemfontein
ONE boy was beaten to death and another died from his stab wounds at initiation schools in the eastern Free State, while police said this week they have rescued 16 boys from an illegal initiation school in Viljoensdrif near Sasolburg.
The end-of-year initiation school season, a traditional practice when young boys from the country’s black ethnic groups are circumcised and taught to become men, began in November and will run until January.
But as has virtually become routine each initiation season several reports have emerged from across the country of abuse or even deaths of initiates mostly happening at illegal schools and of circumcision procedures gone wrong, sometimes resulting in serious injury and permanent disability to the boys.
According to police spokesperson Sergeant Mako Mophiring, the boy beaten to death at an initiation school at Skalkie Farm near the eastern Free State town of Kestel was only 14 years old.
Mophiring, who identified the murdered boy as Tsipu Jan Tubane, said the body that police recovered from the initiation school last Saturday was riddled with multiple injuries – evidence of the brutal beating that the hapless teenager endured before his death.
It was not immediately clear yesterday what could have led to the boy being beaten up although beatings and generally tough conditions are common at initiation schools as part of the treatment initiates get to toughen them up as men.
The owner and initiator at the Skalkie Farm school are in police custody and will appear in court on January 25 charged with the murder of Tubane, said Mophiring.
Mophiring, who speaks for the police in Qwaqwa and Kestel, said on the same day the police were called to retrieve Tubane’s dead body another initiate, 23-year-old Sipho Raymond Chabangu, was stabbed to death following an argument over sorghum beer (mqombothi) at an initiation school at Basotho Trust Farm near Bethlehem town, about 91km east of Qwaqwa.
The man accused of stabbing Chabangu is in custody and is also expected in court on January 25 to answer to one charge of murder and several charges of robbing and assaulting other initiates.
Mophiring said the deaths of Tubane and Chabangu were once again reminders of the need for society to “ensure safe, adequate and healthy conditions at all initiation schools”.
He criticised some owners of initiation schools that he said appeared more driven not by a desire to uphold culture and tradition but by greed and desire to make as much money from initiates as possible, even at the expense of initiates’ lives.
For example, Mophiring said it was irresponsible for school owners to recruit 14-year-olds or even younger boys without first seeking permission from their parents.
“It’s irresponsible for an owner of an initiation school to accept a 14-year-old boy to an initiation school without parents’ letter and medical record that clears the boy to take part,” he said.
In one such example of school owners who seem driven more by profit than a desire to uphold culture and tradition, the 16 boys aged between 14 and 30 years who were rescued by the police from the illegal initiation school in Viljoensdrif were under the care of initiators barely older than the boys.
The three initiators were all aged between 18 and 26 years, rather too young for someone wanting to teach others how to be men.
The boys were released to their parents while the three initiators remain in custody and will appear in the Sasolburg Magistrate Court on January 22 to answer to charges under the Free State Initiation School Health Act.
The Act makes it illegal for anyone to run an initiation school or treat initiates without first submitting an application and obtaining written permission from a district medical officer.
The law also requires owners of initiation schools to be at least 45 years of age while teachers or initiators must be at least 35 years old.
According to the police, the illegal initiation school was uncovered with the help of members of the local community.
Sergeant Tshidiso Mokoena from the Metsimaholo health initiations committee said he led the police to the illegal school at Rietfontein Farm in the area after receiving a tipoff from a member of the public.
“Having received the call about the illegal initiation school taking place in the farm, I immediately alerted the police who accompanied me to the place,” said Mokoena, whose committee monitors initiation schools in Metsimaholo Local Municipality under which Viljoensdrif falls.
Speaking to Free State Times this week, South African Traditional Healers Association president Sazi Mhlongo called on health authorities and the police across the country to carry out checks in their areas to ensure that only registered schools were carrying out initiations.
“Both the department of health along with the police should during this season of initiation conduct a comprehensive inspection in their respective provinces to ensure that young lives are not lost (at illegal initiation schools) and that the culture of our forefathers is upheld,” he said.
Mhlongo said most abuse and injury during circumcision was because of young, immature and incompetent people being tasked to take charge of initiates and to carry out circumcision procedures.
“The incompetent performance of the circumcision ritual at the initiation schools was singled out as the major cause of injury to and deaths of initiates,” he said.
PASSAGE RITE: In this file photo taken on June 30 2013, Xhosa boys covered with blankets and smeared with chalky mud sit in a field as they undergo a traditional initiation into manhood in Qunu. Two boys have so far died at end-of-year initiation schools in the eastern Free State. – Photo: AP.