Initiation school. File photo: INLSA

Johannesburg - The Mpumalanga Department of Health was allegedly asked to be on standby and offer assistance when the first deaths of initiates were reported in the province.

However, they allegedly took their time, and by the time they responded, it was already too late. Many more boys had died, and the number was rising.

This is according to Kgosi Mathibela Mokoena, chairman of the House of Traditional Leaders in Mpumalanga, who said that while they won’t point fingers now, they had tried to get the department involved from the beginning in order to prevent more deaths.

“When the first few deaths were reported, we called them for help to be on standby, but they took their time,” Mokoena said.

So far, 23 youths, aged between 13 and 21, have died.

The initiation started on May 8 and more than 30 000 youths attended. The first deaths were reported on the very first day.

The numbers kept going up, with the last death reported on Saturday marking the highest number of deaths of initiates ever recorded in the province.

Everyone was left feeling alarmed.

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs sent mobile clinics to the schools so that health workers could check on the youths.

Police have opened murder dockets, but no arrests have been made.

The Department of Health is also looking into the matter, with Mpumalanga’s House of Traditional Leaders carrying out its own investigations.

People are also being sent to monitor the schools on an hourly basis.

Health Department spokesman Ronnie Masilela denied allegations that they had not responded in time.

“We were there. We went on site and we checked on them. Anyway, I can’t tell you much now, let’s wait for the report,” he said.

The deaths occurred in Kwaggafontein, Middelburg, Verena, KwaMhlanga, Belfast and Siyabuswa.

Mpumalanga police spokesman Colonel Leonard Hlathi said some of the youths had already been buried and post-mortems carried out.

The causes of death have not yet been revealed. But Mokoena said their preliminary investigations had revealed that some initiation school owners could have been negligent.

While all the schools were legal, he said, the problem had been that some owners had hired young and inexperienced people to look after the youths.

“You need an elderly person to look after the initiates… We have a law that states clearly what must happen, and these owners who were negligent in these cases will face the music,” Mokoena said emphatically.

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The Star