Initiation graduate Mduduzi Ntuli (standing first from right) with his fellow graduates and their three initiation guards (seated) during his welcoming ceremony at his home in Moloto village, Mpumalanga. Picture: Balise Mabona/ANA

Kwamhlanga - At least 11 initiates have died at various initiation schools in Mpumalanga during the current initiation season that started in April, police said on Sunday.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi told the African News Agency (ANA) that police were still investigating eight cases of culpable homicide and three inquests in relation to the deaths.

“The inquests are for the deaths of three female initiates and the culpable homicide cases are for the deaths of eight male initiates. I cannot say when the investigations will be concluded,” said Hlathi.

The initiates died at different times in separate areas of the province, including KwaMhlanga and Belfast, he said.

Musa Thugwana, chairperson of the Ingoma Forum, which is a platform created by the provincial health department to provide support at initiation schools, said the forum was satisfied with the conduct of parents during the current season.

“Many parents complied with medical prescriptions before they sent their children to initiation schools. We had 31 deaths in the 2013 initiation season and the number has decreased,” said Thugwana.

Hundreds of male initiates of the Ndebele ethnic group graduated and returned home on June 25. This was after they spent two months at initiation schools undergoing a rite of passage into manhood. 

Their families held ceremonies to welcome them and slaughtered different animals, including bulls and goats for a feast.

One of the initiation school’s graduates Mduduzi Ntuli of Moloto village near KwaMhlanga, told ANA that he was initially scared of going to the initiation school due to the deaths that occurred in the 2013 season.

“I just gathered courage and went to the mountains. Everything went well and I am glad I came back alive,” said the 19-year-old grade 12 pupil.

“I’d like to encourage boys out there to also be strong and go when their turns come because this practice is important in our culture. But they must avoid eating the wrong food while awaiting their turn in order to meet the nutritional requirements of this practice.”

The nutritional requirements for prospective initiates included refraining from eating fatty foods such as fat cakes and fried potato chips, added Mduduzi. He would not say what might happen to prospective initiates who ate fatty foods as it was taboo to reveal such details.
 
During a welcoming ceremony at his home on Saturday, Mduduzi was showered with a number of gifts by his parents and other family members. These included a bed, clothes, wash basins, traditional carpets, and blankets. Food and different beverages were then served to Mduduzi and his six fellow graduates and all the people present. 

Mduduzi and his friends, flanked by their three initiation guards, subsequently performed a final cultural obligation that entailed running into the main house at his home, where they officially announced that they were now men. 

They also ran onto the streets and into a few homes of Mduduzi’s neighbours, where they did the same thing. 

Women and girls sang praises of the new men in jubilation as they ran from one house to another. The graduates ran barefoot wearing Ndebele traditional pants made out of animal skins and beaded regalia wrapped around their bodies and heads.

Mduduzi’s grandfather Solomon Mahlangu said he was not worried about the safety of his grandson before he went to the initiation school. “Our initiation practice is safe but there are some people out there who do it in the wrong way,” said Mahlangu.