Department of Traditional Affairs spokesperson Sifiso Ngcobo yesterday confirmed this number. He added that the department was still in the process of verifying some of the causes of death and whether the deaths happened at illegal or legal initiation schools.
“One death is a lot. We have a zero tolerance policy on casualties and deaths,” said Ngcobo, adding the police had played a vital role in shutting down illegal initiation schools.
A bogus initiation school in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, was shut down by police on Monday and some initiates were sent to places of safety, while others were collected by their parents, said Ngcobo.
“The bogus school in Lenasia was in a veld. There was no proper shelter for initiates and there was no provision for water.”
Ngcobo explained that most deaths during initiation season happen at illegal schools.
In a statement yesterday, the SA Human Rights Commission condemned the initiation-related deaths. The commission said: “According to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities report of June 2014, this cultural practice has so far claimed about 486 lives in the past seven years.
“While as a human rights institution we respect the observance of any culture, we cannot accept and tolerate a culture that leads to the death of children and the youths.”
Joe Maila, the spokesperson for Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi, said: “We are offering medical care and assistance. We are sending doctors to schools around the country to oversee this.” Maila added that the department respected cultural practices, which was why the doctors they send to assist are all themselves graduates of initiation schools.
The Department of Health was helping where it could by helping with medical pre-checks to ensure initiates were fit to undergo initiation, added Maila.
Ngcobo said: “The initates at these schools often haven’t gone for medical pre-checks, and are dehydrated.
“Problems arise where people take chances and want to make quick money,” said Ngcobo, echoing Motsoaledi’s call for parents to make sure they send their sons to legal initiation schools.