THE Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities suspects that the deaths of 35 initiates in the Eastern Cape could be linked to illegal initiation schools in the province.
This follows the commission chairperson, Professor David Mosoma, saying this was because several illegal initiation schools were closed in the province.
Mosoma also pleaded with traditional leaders to be decisive in dealing with the problem of illegal initiation schools.
The deaths of the 35 initiates during the 2023 summer school period represents an increase from 2022, which saw 22 deaths.
Mosoma said bogus initiation schools remained a problem that still needed attention.
This is despite the government in the past making it clear that bogus traditional surgeons and their illegal initiation schools should be arrested and never be covered in the safe male circumcision budget.
“Although we don’t have the official report from the relevant committees, the report that we have seen from the Eastern Cape shows that there were several illegal initiation schools closed. Their owners were arrested,” said Mosoma.
“But the most important accountable people should be traditional leaders. Once traditional leaders are hands-on as per the act, I can tell you that this thing would come to an end.
“These things are happening in their jurisdiction and if they have challenges they must be able to link up with the province, municipalities, and law enforcement agencies. This culture exists because they hold the right to become the custodians of it, so they must take full responsibility,” Mosoma said.
On the matter of illegal initiation schools not being permitted by the law and should be reported, Mosoma said this would derail the purpose of what initiation was all about.
“When any illegal school is permitted it must be reported, because the traditional leaders are accountable and would be blamed when something goes wrong. They have full responsibility, according to the act. They also have the custodianship and have to make sure it runs smoothly for the betterment of the community,” he said.
Mosoma said he was waiting for the formal report on how other provinces were affected.
Meanwhile, the Gauteng Provincial Initiation Co-ordinating Committee (PICC) said one bogus initiation school was identified and closed in the Sedibeng District Municipality.
Committee spokesperson Mary Martins said immediate action was taken against the school principal, who was arrested.
Asked if there were any deaths reported, Martins said there had been no record of deaths or reports brought forward to the PICC.
“This is related to both registered and unregistered schools. Any information or leads given relating to deaths would immediately be investigated together with the SAPS,” she said.
She said the PICC workshopped initiation key stakeholders such as initiation principals, caregivers and traditional surgeons to ensure the safety and well-being of all initiates.
“Moreover, the PICC has, through its Initiation Monitoring Team, continued to conduct regular monitoring visits to various approved schools spread across the different municipalities in the province,”Martins said.
The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) said the deaths in the Eastern Cape could have been avoided if role-players played their roles and took their responsibilities seriously as provided for in the Customary Initiation Act, 2021 (Act No. 2 of 2021).
“These are interventions that the department and its statutory structures (i.e, the National Initiation Oversight Committee and the National House of Traditional and Khoi-San Leaders) are doing to ensure that there are zero customary initiation fatalities, amputations and criminality,” spokesperson Legadima Leso said.
Leso said although illegal initiation contributes to the deaths and amputations of initiates, there was no confirmed information from provinces because the season is still on, and the department has not received reports. “Since the summer initiation season has not yet closed, the department could not get reports from provinces.”
Leso said, however, that in preparation for the 2023 summer initiation season, the department worked with the National Department and the Eastern Cape Department of Education to hold a campaign on the Customary Initiation Act in the Basic Education Schools – targeting potential initiates because they played a critical role in saving their own lives by complying with the requirements of the act, as well as not attending illegal initiation schools.
He said Cogta was very much concerned about the fatalities from customary initiation in the Eastern Cape.
Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) chairperson Kgoshi Mokoena on Thursday told Radio 702 that the incidents in the Eastern Cape were a disaster that needed extraordinary measures to curb.
“Because there’s no way parents will send their boys to the mountain only for them to come back being corpses,” he said.