‘Initiates died from the heat’
Eastern Cape parents ignored appeals by government to suspend traditional initiation ceremonies this summer on the grounds of weather experts forecasting unbearably high temperatures, City Press has learnt. According to Mninawa Nyusile, chair of the cooperative governance and traditional affairs portfolio committee in the provincial legislature, the authorities were told by the SA Weather Service “that the December weather pattern indicated it was going to be very hot”.
The information from the Weather Service was received during a workshop in September with amakhankatha (traditional nurses) and ingcibi (traditional surgeons).
“The weather forecasters were advising us to go to our communities and warn people not to allow their children to go through the initiation ceremony this season. We called imbizos and public hearings, but our people disagreed with us.
“All the initiates who perished in the Chris Hani district near Queenstown died of dehydration. We advised them not to continue with the ceremonies, but they did not heed our advice,” said Nyusile.
He attributed the deaths to the heat, explaining that initiates in this district were deprived of drinking water by their traditional nurses.
One of the early victims of this year’s summer initiation season was 19-year-old Luphelo Madela from Port Elizabeth. His death has brought to 17 the number of youths who have died so far this season.
His lifeless body was found by his traditional nurse on Tuesday, lying in a tiny boma a few hundred metres away from his house.
Madela was a Grade 11 pupil at Nkululeko Secondary School in Uitenhage. His two older sisters said he dreamt of finishing his studies and getting a good job.
“He is my parents’ last-born child and only son. Our other brother was tragically removed from us at the tender age of 21,” said his sister, Nokuthula. His aunt, Monica Swartz, said after the nurse found him, she summoned his uncle, Sicelo Tsotsa. Tsotsa told City Press that Madela looked well and happy the day before he died. “We sat for hours having our normal chat. He was singing, awaiting the day of his homecoming,” he said. “I was shattered to see him lying, face-down, next to his sleeping place, after leaving him in such a jovial mood the day before. “I left him after he had cleaned his boma as part of his preparations to retire for the night.” Tsotsa said the family had planned to bring Madela’s body home this week, but his parents work out of town and could not arrive in time for the burial ceremony, so it was postponed. Madela’s mother was too distraught to speak. She sat in her bedroom and wept. Tsotsa denied that Madela’s death was related to the initiation process, insisting that “everything involving the custom went perfectly well, and we are thankful to the initiation school for taking great care of him”. Initial reports by provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo claimed that Madela died of a suspected drug overdose, which his family strongly denied. Madela had a history of epilepsy, and it is believed that this condition may have played a part in his death. Nyusile, along with Mxolisi Dimbaza, head of the portfolio committee on health in the Bhisho legislator, inspected initiation schools, hospitals and rescue centres in Mbizana and Nyandeni this week. Nyusile said they discovered many illegal initiation schools in Mbizana’s mountainous areas which could only be reached on foot or by helicopter. “Some of these initiation schools are hidden in places where you cannot go by car. We have suggested that the department of health organise a helicopter for us so that we can rescue all those initiates,” he said.
DECEASED Initiate Luphelo Madela was found dead in his boma, near Port Elizabeth, this week