Johannesburg - As the death toll in Mpumalanga initiation schools continues to mount, parents have expressed fear that their children may also not return home alive.
Such is the fear among parents that those whose boys are not attending are keeping a close eye on their movements in a desperate attempt to stop them going to these schools without parents’ permission, as some boys do.
The parents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal as no one - especially female - is allowed to speak openly on Ndebele circumcision rituals. “I am not sure if he will come back alive or not,” said one mother.
Her 20-year-old son went to the circumcision school on May 7, with thousands of other initiates attending the two-month-long Ndebele rite of passage into manhood.
“Sometimes I avoid listening to the radio or watching TV because every time they talk about these deaths, I am scared. I am always worried if my child is still alive or not.”
The deaths, which have been blamed on negligence, have taken place in the Nkangala district areas of KwaMhlanga, Siyabuswa, Verena, Kwaggafontein, Middelburg and Belfast and have sent shockwaves across the country.
On Wednesday, the technical team appointed to investigate the fatalities said it would recommend that the admission of further initiates to circumcision schools be halted.
The team also resolved to bolster its intervention strategy to prevent further deaths.
“It (the deaths) didn’t use to happen like this before. This year is worse. But we trust in God. He will come back (home alive),” the mother said, sighing.
Another woman, aged 57, is worried that her teenage grandson might go to the circumcision school without her permission.
“I always have to remind my daughter to watch his movements,” said the granny, also expressing dismay at the “unusual deaths” of Ndebele initiates.
“Before, there were specific people who were known and very good (in the practice). But now it’s not well controlled because it’s like anyone can do it.”
The granny said women felt powerless as the men consider revealing information about the health status of initiates taboo, while the men were unable to take appropriate measures to prevent the fatalities.
Another woman, whose 21-year-old son is attending the initiation school, said: “What is happening is very difficult and painful.
You take your child for initiation, only for him to die there. It’s not right. Sometimes when it’s time for news on TV, I send my children to the kitchen because they get very worried.”
On Thursday, Mpumalanga police spokesman Colonel Leonard Hlathi put the death toll at 30, up from 27 on Wednesday.