Members of the notorious 26 and 28 prison gangs have formed initiation schools in some parts of the Eastern Cape, where they allegedly recruit boys into crime.
Executive director of Community Development Foundation for South Africa (Codefsa) Nkululeko Nxesi said another trend was the abduction and trafficking of potential recruits in certain areas of the Eastern Cape.
According to Nxesi, each initiation school accommodated 70 to 100 students and charged about R5 000 per child. This meant one programme could make as much as R500 000 in a season.
Nxesi said 4 300 initiates had been through the programme in Matatiele alone in one season, bringing the figure to millions of rands.
This phenomenon was not unique to the province. In fact, gangsterism under the guise of initiation schools was also rife in Gauteng.
Nxesi added that this was especially true for Sedibeng, saying satanists were also using the platform to recruit many youngsters.
Codefsa’s mandate is to promote safe traditional initiation rites and to observe the legal compliance of the schools.
Adding to this mandate, the organisation also trains traditional surgeons and nurses, and regularly stages workshops to create awareness.
According to Nxesi, gangsterism at “fake” initiation schools in the Eastern Cape was at its infancy. And although there was a high death rate in the province, compared to others, the majority of schools were conducted by legitimate traditional nurses.
But he cautioned that practices in Gauteng could not be considered traditional initiation schools “because 70% of them are encouraging criminal activity, recruiting boys into gangs and turning them into drug addicts”.
“In some areas in the Eastern Cape, the traditional nurses are ex-convicts who were members of the 26 and 28 gangs,” Nxesi said.
“What they then do, is inculcate what they have been initiated on in prison to these unsuspecting initiates.”
He said youngsters at these gang-orientated schools were exploited because “they don’t know what the true traditional initiation teachings are, so whatever training they are offered, they accept not knowing it’s wrong”.
Nxesi said upon their return from these fake schools, part of the traditional ceremony is to wear post initiation regalia, “converge in one particular area and march around the city as if they are prisoners”.
“During this time, they carry knives and do a sort of ritual, similar to those done in prison, stabbing the knives on the floor in an open space,” he said.
“If you have gone through an initiation school in that same period, you will be expected to join in and do all the things considered foreign at initiation schools.”
Nxesi said the youngsters were abducted and trafficked into the schools without the consent of their parents in some cases.
Codefsa will present its findings to the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Rights Commission in the Eastern Cape, who are looking into the matter.