Pretoria — The death toll for the current initiation season has gone up to 16, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) confirmed on Sunday.
The department confirmed that 14 boys have died at initiation schools in the Eastern Cape since the beginning of last month.
The OR Tambo District reported seven, Chris Hani District four, Alfred Nzo one, Qumbu two.
Limpopo has recorded one death and Mpumalanga has also reported one death.
COGTA Deputy Minister Obed Bapela has condemned those who irresponsibly operate illegal initiation schools with no regard for the law and safety of the children.
“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,” Deputy Minister Bapela said.
The Deputy Minister also commended the fast intervention of Gauteng Social Development MEC Faith Mazibuko, who together with the community of Meadowlands Zone 7 in Soweto, rescued about 19 boys from an illegal school recently.
Police said the boys were kidnapped from Orange Farm and taken to a mine dump in the area.
The youngest was 11 and had been abducted by unscrupulous criminals that also intended to extort money from unsuspecting parents for the safe passage of the young boys.
While they have received medical attention, the group will be moved to a resource centre to complete the initiation process.
“The rescued boys were physically abused and starved for two weeks whilst some were scarred with hot soft porridge,” said MEC Mazibuko at the time.
According to the department, Gauteng has the highest number of illegal schools with a total of 22 that have been closed down.
About 89 initiates have been rescued since the start of the initiation season in the province.
The Deputy Minister further mentioned that the challenge is that parents are not willing to open criminal cases of kidnapping for their children. “It is sad that they are willing to pay the money to release them.”
He has called on all stakeholders to play their part and ensure the safety of the initiates and protecting the cultural practices by reporting illegal and bogus initiation schools to the nearest police stations across the country.