A Mpumalanga traditional leader warned initiation school owners and traditional surgeons to refrain from abducting initiates and taking them to the mountains for ritual passage without the consent of their parents. Chief Nsizwa Mahlangu, of the Ndzundza Urban Regional Council at Hlalanikahle Township in Emalahleni, said the practice violated children’s rights and was also a money-making scheme.
Mahlangu’s warning comes after he and Mpumalanga police rescued 17 young men last week after they were forcefully taken to the initiation school in Kriel, near Middelburg. The boys are aged between 16 and 21 years.
In an interview with African Times, Mahlangu, a senior Provincial Initiation Coordinating Committee member, said they were investigating similar cases in Mpumalanga.
“Most of the people who are doing this barbaric act are the people who operate initiation schools. The kidnapping of young men is mostly happening in the Mpumalanga Highveld. We would like to warn them that they must stop this because they are violating the children’s rights,” said Chief Mahlangu.
“Some of the school’s owners take these children to their schools because they want parents to pay some fees as a penalty that their children entered their schools.”
The 2023 initiation school season officially opened this month and will run until August. Chief Mahlangu said they worked closely with community members, traditional leaders and the police to fight against the scourge. The chief said those found guilty of taking people to their school without following proper procedure would face harsh penalties.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson, Colonel Donald Mdluli, has commended Chief Mahlangu and other traditional leaders for helping bring back the abducted young men.
“The young men were sought by their families. A team consisting of members of the police working in conjunction with the traditional leadership led by uNdabezitha Nsizwa Mahlangu managed to bring back all the initiates safely and in good health condition,” Mdluli said in a statement.
In Mpumalanga, it is common for initiation schools to abduct children and take them to their schools without the consent of their parents. Last year, about 50 young men were rescued by the police and traditional leaders after forcefully being taken to different schools – violating the law.
According to Section 28 of the Customary Initiation Act of 2021, taking people to initiation schools is illegal without the parents’ consent. Furthermore, the act states that “initiation is a voluntary customary practice and no person may be forced or coerced into attending any initiation school or undergo any initiation practices”.
It adds that “no person may attend an initiation school unless all the relevant consent requirements of this section have been complied with and a medical certificate contemplated in section 22(1)(c) has been issued in respect of such person”.
Over the past two decades, thousands of boys and young men have died in initiation schools nationwide. More than 700 initiates have died in the Eastern Cape since 2012, according to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and North-West are the main areas where the right of passage is practised.