“Safety of our young men and boys is not the sole responsibility of government but a societal responsibility.
“Responsible schools will not take any boy without the consent of his parents and only operate within government health guidelines,” said the Minister on Thursday during a media briefing on the winter initiation season.
The Ministry today launched a Zero Deaths Campaign in initiation schools, as the winter initiation season is already underway.
Government is on a mission to curb the loss of lives of initiates, who go through the cultural practice to transition into adulthood.
Minister Van Rooyen said approximately 101 initiates lost their lives during the 2015 winter and summer initiation seasons, and most cases were recorded in the Eastern Cape.
“We can no longer afford to fold our arms while the young initiates continue to die or are forever disfigured,” he said.
Many lives at initiation schools are destroyed due to botched procedures. The Minister said the department will continue to work with the Justice Cluster to ensure that those who kidnap young men, and those who open initiation schools illegally and for commercialisation reasons are dealt with accordingly.
“We cannot allow [a situation] where people who are not well trained and not experienced abuse initiates and treat them inhumanly, which results in the deaths of initiates,” said Minister van Rooyen.
Illegal initiation schools
The Minister urged South Africans to report illegal initiation schools to law enforcement agencies so that owners can be arrested and prosecuted.
“We appreciate the cases that have been opened and those that are awaiting trial,” he said.
Recently, the Witbank Magistrate’s Court sentenced a traditional surgeon to five years imprisonment for the death of an initiate, as well as contravening section 12, subsection 8 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.
The Minister said government will set common standards and restore the integrity of the traditional initiation practice.
“We will continue to close all illegal schools and work with police to arrest the perpetrators. We will criminalise the activities that result in young people losing their lives.”
Causes of death
Out of the 101 lives lost at initiation schools last year, Cogta Deputy Minister Obed Bapela said 44 were recorded during the winter season, while 57 occurred in summer.
The Deputy Minister said challenges that lead to fatalities include not adhering to stringent quality health standards, unqualified traditional surgeons and schools often not having safety measures in place.
Other causes of death during initiation are pneumonia, dehydration due to not drinking enough water and deprivation, assault, botched circumcision and other conditions related to mental sicknesses.
The Deputy Minister urged initiates and care givers to drink lots of water before, during and after initiation to prevent dehydration.
“We all have to play our part and ensure that these schools become places of safety and adhere to norms and standards of initiation,” said Deputy Minister Bapela.
National Initiation Task Team chairperson Inkosi Sipho Mahlangu said the task team will visit initiation schools to ensure compliance.
“They will have to make sure that all the boys that are at the initiation schools underwent medical examination and parents have signed, and traditional surgeons are trained to practice,” said Mahlangu, who is also the Deputy Chairperson of National House of Traditional Leaders.
He said illegal schools will not be tolerated. “We have agreed with the police that parents who take their children to illegal initiation schools will be held liable as well. We are discouraging parents from taking their children to illegal initiation schools.”
Deputy Chairperson for the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), Professor David Mosoma, reiterated that those who open illegal initiation schools will be dealt with without fear or favour.
Special Director of Prosecutions at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Dawood Adam, called for a stop of organised crimes, regarding the kidnaping of young men to initiation schools.
He said the NPA and Justice Department will use the Prevention of Organised Crime Act to prosecute where there is evidence, and that this carries very high maximum sentences.
“We must stop these organised crime acts. It cannot be an individual. It is a group of individuals,” he said.