Johannesburg - “If they run away, we hunt them down like animals!” With those words, Sello*, 17, and Thabang*, 18, explained how they lured or abducted teenage boys to illegal initiation schools.
The pair said that going through the rite of passage to manhood was mandatory for the boys, regardless of their culture.
“It makes them real men. They will be treated badly, differently by others if they don’t do it,” Sello said on Monday.
“It’s better for them to choose to go. I went and I became a good man. I’m their example.”
At least 90 boys are said to be missing since last week in what police believe was the latest incidents of boys being abducted to illegal initiation schools across Gauteng.
About 60 of the boys were rescued, said Nhlakanipho Nkontwana, the spokesman for the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. He said the department had destroyed illegal initiation schools in Westonaria.
The latest incidents come as some parts of the country, notably the Eastern Cape, brave for yet another initiation season.
Last year, 23 boys were reported to have died in initiation schools nationally, while 16 have died so far this year.
Earlier this year, Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Obed Bapela condemned the “irresponsible people who operate illegal initiation schools with no regard for the law and safety of the children but were motivated by greed”.
“This is a national crisis looming before our eyes and a complex matter that needs all stakeholders to work together in preserving our cultural heritage from being hijacked by criminals,” he said.
On Monday, the grandmother of a 16-year-old boy who was kidnapped in Orange Farm recounted her ordeal.
“Xolani was taken last Friday. He never came home; that’s when we knew something was wrong,” said Nnete Mathambo.
With tears in her eyes, she recalled how “former initiates” came to her house the next morning to tell the family that Xolani had been taken and he needed homemade bread.
“I refused. I told them to bring him back.”
She has pleaded with police for help but was told there wasn’t much they could do.
“I’m worried about him. I’m scared of what they’ll do to him,” she said, adding that the family were Christians and didn’believe in initiation.
But Sello and Thabang are undeterred in their mission to lure or abduct boys.
“We talk to them all the time and tell them: ‘Come to the initiation school and you’ll be a man.’ Some feel brave and they come willingly, but others get scared.”
Thabang and Sello said they usually go back to the boys’ parents to tell them that their children have gone for initiation.
“Some are okay with it, others get cross and refuse to supply food or money for them unless we bring them back. We try to convince them that we’ll look after them,” Thabang said.
Initiation lasts between five and six weeks.
The pair admitted that conditions at the schools were terrible.
Apart from going under the knife, the boys are tortured. Many try to escape but are recaptured.
Thabang admitted he would never take his younger brother for initiation. “There are too many things wrong. I wouldn’t want him to go through that.”
* Not their real names
** Follow the reporter on Twitter @LanC_02
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