File picture: Siegfried Modola
File picture: Siegfried Modola

Initiation deaths go unpunished

By Phalane Motale Time of article published Jul 5, 2015

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Johannesburg - Despite the high death rates and the genital amputations of hundreds of young initiates during the annual circumcision of mostly innocent victims across South Africa, only 10 cases are currently before our courts.

Of great concern is that while government has condemned the deaths of young people as a result of botched practices, and has been unified in its calls for better monitoring and interventions to improve the outcomes of traditional circumcision, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) has disappointingly confirmed that they do not keep any records relating to initiation convictions.

This is despite statistics that indicate that more than 1 000 people have died and many more permanently mutilated at initiation schools in the past five years – with more than half of them occurring in Eastern Cape.

The NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said only 10 cases were currently before the courts and the nature of data collection at both the NPA and police service meant that there was no way to tell whether any of the cases prosecuted – be they for murder, assault or negligence – were related to botched circumcisions.

“We do not keep case-specific crime conviction statistics. But I know we have about 10 cases, particularly in the Eastern Cape, where suspects have been arrested, for instance, operating an illegal initiation school.

“Most cases are being withdrawn for various reasons. But we are engaging traditional leaders by arranging workshops because we believe we first have to educate before we can be harsh on them,” Mfaku said.

Meanwhile, there were renewed concerns this week as it was confirmed that at least eight boys have died at initiation schools across the country since the start of this year’s circumcision season last month. In the Eastern Cape there were six deaths, while two boys died in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) praised police for their efforts, but they were yet to see any convictions.

Spokesperson Prince Tabane said the organisation has approached local municipalities to help enforce the by-laws but had hit a dead end.

“Once they have a by-law that talks to these challenges, it will be easy for them to be arrested. But now the police do their job, they take them to jail but the magistrate will release them on bail. The most recent one happened in Daveyton.


Community leader and senior pastor at The Living Word Ministries in Pretoria, Pastor Amos Zitha, said the church was deeply concerned over the low conviction rate, which sends a negative message to affected communities that perpetrators who either kill or maim young and innocent men-to-be in the name of culture won’t ever be punished,” he said.

Pastor Zitha said culture played a role in the low conviction rate because it states that if an initiate dies at initiation schools, the body is not brought home as it is buried at the initiation school, in the bush, wherever they are on the mountain. The death is not reported before the burial.

However, Mfaku disagrees.

“Culture has nothing to do with the low conviction rate. Culture cannot stand in our way when we have to prosecute anyone for any crime.”

Anyone found guilty can be jailed for 10 years, and up to 20 years for a second offence.

The Sunday Independent

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