‘We are counting bodies’
Cinga Maphetshane was beaten to death while his friends sang. The 17-year-old died after a savage assault at an initiation school outside Gxulu Village in Libode, Eastern Cape. The traditional nurses allegedly ordered his fellow initiates to sing loudly to muffle his screams for help.
Cinga died four days before he was to return home to his mother, Nombulelo (48), who had not given him permission to undergo the passage to manhood.
Overwhelmed by peer pressure, the Grade 8 pupil from St Patrick’s High School in Mthatha and seven of his friends took themselves to the legal initiation school on June 21. His family had no idea he was going to do this – they had planned for him to be circumcised in December.
Reeling in shock, Nombulelo still has no idea why her only son was beaten to death. She told City Press that the family had planned to have a small ceremony to welcome him back home, and a bigger feast was planned for December.
She only became aware of the fact that Cinga had gone to the school after the family was contacted by the ingcibi (traditional surgeon) two days after her son was circumcised, when he came to demand money.
“I had just accepted that my son had gone to an initiation school without my blessing and promised the ingcibi that we would make a plan to pay the R600 he was demanding when he came back home,” On a tour of the Eastern Cape this week, Deputy Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Obed Bapela spoke about a “looming national crisis” following the alarming number of deaths of initiates in the province.
By Friday, the number of boys who had died around the country during the winter initiation season had risen to 27. Of those, 22 died in the Eastern Cape, two in Limpopo, one in Mpumalanga and two in North West.
“Since the beginning of the season, we are losing an initiate every day. The official initiation season was only launched on June 21, but already we have lost so many lives; we are counting bodies,” Bapela said.
Accompanied by a number of village chiefs and monitoring teams, including nurses and doctors, Bapela visited rescue centres, hospitals and amabhoma (initiation schools) in the Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo region, where 14 boys had died, with 145 rescued and hospitalised.
“Our plan was to have zero deaths, but we are losing the battle due to illegal schools mushrooming Nombulelo said.
Last Sunday, the ingcibi visited again, this time to demand R400 to buy traditional herbs for Cinga, who he said had become delusional and confused while at the initiation school. The next day, his dead body was brought home.
“We raised the R400 he was asking and gave it to him,” she said through tears. “The next day my son was dead. All I want is answers and justice for my son because we have been told that he was beaten to death at the initiation school. The whole thing about herbs and him being confused was just a cover-up.
“The pain I feel inside is unexplainable.”
Her remaining child is Cinga’s 25-year-old sister, on whom the family has now pinned their hopes.
“Cinga was very passionate about education. He wanted to be a lawyer or teacher and become his own man. He loved people. He was very humble and such a joy to have as a son because he was very polite,” she said.
Cinga’s father, Orlando (67), was distraught.
“On the day he died, there was this loud noise of singing coming from the initiation school. The initiates were singing at the top of their voices, singing joyous songs,” he said.
“I later learnt that during the time they were singing, my son was being beaten and was crying for help. The initiates were instructed to sing loudly so that my son’s cry for help could be drowned by the singing. We thought everything was fine, but to later have him sent to us as a corpse was unbelievable and shocking.” everywhere in all the provinces,” said Bapela.
In the OR Tambo region, there are 511 legal schools, but 144 illegal schools have been discovered. Bapela said 250 illegal schools had been closed down in Limpopo.
“We want to use Cinga Maphetshane’s case as an example. His is just pure murder because he was assaulted in an initiation school. We hope that his coinitiates and members of the community who have information can testify as witnesses,” he said.
Bapela said more than 200 people were arrested for running illegal initiation schools in the country.
At the St Barnabas Hospital in Libode, where the facility had run out of space and was forced to build a makeshift ibhoma outside, Bapela heard how one initiate rescued from an illegal initiation school was admitted with his penis “falling off”.
At St Barnabas Hospital, initiates as young as 12 had been admitted after being rescued from illegal initiation schools.
At Holy Cross Hospital in Flagstaff, which admitted 20 initiates, a distraught 13-year-old cried for his mother.
“I want to see my mother. Where is my mother? Why has she not come to fetch me?” he cried.