Cape Town - The last time Nomonde Jobe saw her son was on the day she handed him over to a group of tribal elders who had promised to return him a “man”.
But now, well over a month later, Jobe, from Zwelithemba in Worcester, fears the worst for Thabiso Jobe, 19.
Thabiso was one of more than 40 young men sent to the Basotho mountains for initiation. He left on November 25, after his parents paid R2 200 to the head of the initiation school called RaMphato.
“I hugged him for a long time and told him to hang in there; this is a journey all men have to take, and he smiled back at me and said, ‘all will be all right, mama’.”
Two weeks later Thabiso disappeared.
Jobe said initiation school teachers had not been honest with her.
She has visited mortuaries and hospitals in a desperate search.
“This is all I have left of him,” she said, pointing to a pair of sunglasses and a cap.
The news that he was missing was first broken to his father, Sango Jobe, who went to the mountains to check on his son.
“The Musuwe (the men who look after the initiates) said Thabiso had asked to go the toilet, and he never returned,” wept Sango Jobe.
But, Nomonde said, RaMphato told her that her son had been misbehaving and they had to punish him, “but the story later changed to Thabiso being mentally ill”.
“They didn’t say what they meant when they said ‘punish’ and I was too afraid of overstepping cultural boundaries to ask.”
Speaking to the Cape Argus on Tuesday, Sango Jobe said tradition did not usually allow him to talk about initiation school training. But he was now desperate.
“Normally if a child dies at the initiation school the father is told in secrecy and is allowed to bury the son. But now no one is giving us direct answers. If only they can just return his body if he is indeed dead.”
Khayelitsha Chief Daluxolo Mtotywa said that in Sesotho culture the blanket that was worn by the initiate was supposed to have been thrown into the yard, if the initiate had died.
But if he had been misbehaving while at the mountain, RaMphato was not held accountable.
“The Sesotho tradition is much stricter than the isiXhosa one. The Sesothu has a right not to say anything about what had happened to the initiate. All that happens in the mountain remains in the mountain.”
Other initiates who were in the same group with Thabiso returned on January 2.
Nomonde said that as the days progressed her family were having more sleepless nights.
“We are woken by sounds of dogs barking, cars driving past and even the wind blowing. We keep hoping that maybe Thabiso will return to us.”
A missing persons report was filed at the Zwelithemba police station in Worcester.
Police spokeswoman Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said the investigation was continuing.