Deaths of initiates‚ a ‘sore’ point for cultural and religious watchdog

The deaths of initiates across the country are a “sore” point that the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Rights of Cultural‚ Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) says it will be urgently investigating before the start of the next initiation season.

More than 500 initiates have died in the country in the past nine years and according to the CRL Rights Commission the number will continue to rise if the problem remains unattended.

“The problem needs to be solved urgently. Most of us are quiet about it. These are unnecessary deaths. These young people are fit as a fiddle and are in the prime of their lives… but they are dying consistently in the middle of nowhere‚ in villages and no one is doing anything about it.

Deaths of initiates is a sore point for cultural and religious watchdog. Picture: FILE

“The numbers are telling us that there is no plan‚” said the commission’s chairperson‚ Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva‚ speaking at the launch of the investigation into the deaths of initiates in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the investigation will be done across the country‚ starting in March in Sedibeng‚ where they have suspended all initiation schools pending their investigation.

The Eastern Cape‚ which has the highest number of deaths‚ will be the next province to be investigated.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the Commission wants to protect the rights of the young boys who go through initiation.

“We need a very vigorous plan. We need to know why this is happening. There is a constitution in this country; the right to life is in the bill of rights and the state has a responsibility to keep you alive.

“Accessing your culture should not kill you ‚” she said.

The investigation will be conducted by a team of six commissioners‚ comprising four women and two men

“We know there are issues around women and initiation and whether women have a role in initiation.

“We will not go to initiation schools. It’s not by accident that there are more women than men and there is nothing to query about that.

“We can assure stakeholders that they will not see us climbing mountains swimming through rivers to get to initiation schools‚ but we will be looking at the process and what has gone wrong for a long time. We feel women have a critical role to play to ensure this happens efficiently‚” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said.

She said the deaths of initiates were a “sore” situation that needs to be tackled before it gets out of hand.

“As a nation we need to account for what is going wrong. We cannot keep quiet and say‚ we are solving the problem. The problem needs to be solved urgently. We cannot have any more of this [deaths].”

The commission will also be investigating what happens to those arrested for botched circumcision and the deaths of initiates.

“We want to investigate what happens when they get arrested. We asked the police how many are in jail serving sentences and they said ‘none’.”