Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister, Obed Bapela, says they're working with other government departments to ensure that they criminalize running of illegal initiation schools.
“We will not tolerate people who are running unauthorised schools or illegal schools. Our search is to get the law that can criminalise all illegal schools so that no deaths occur at any illegal schools. Enough is enough. Those who are running them please note that we are going to be tough on you but we will also have to strengthen the law so that we can arrest and sentence them,” says Bapela.
Bapela was speaking at an illegal initiation school site in Soweto where 22 initiates were rescued over the weekend. One is still missing.
So far seventeen illegal schools have been closed down in Gauteng alone. Nineteen initiates have lost their lives in the Eastern Cape, two in Limpopo and one in Mpumalanga.
Bapela says the biggest challenge that they are faced with currently is that the police do not have the powers to arrest the culprits.
"We are working with the police and communities who report the matters. We then close the schools. But that's the least we can do. If we are able to find the people, we arrest them and check if the children have any signs of assault. A charge of assault will arise. If there's any child dying then the murder or homicide charge will arise. But if none of those are not there, then unfortunately you can only ban them and rescue the children," says Bapela.
Soweto resident William Mahapa says they used to see these people come to ask for water in the township but they didn't suspect anything because they assumed they were illegal miners.
"We found a schambok, a black pot with two pangas, and they were lying here. Some were singing. We don’t know whether they were drunk or what. We found containers of glue, maybe they were smoking that glue. They were badly injured, we had to lift them up to the township," says Mahapa.
Gauteng Social Development MEC Faith Mazibuko was among the people who rescued the initiates on Saturday.
“In total we found 22 , four were admitted with severe burn wounds and then only two had septic wounds. They were treated and dressed overnight and they were actually released. The other 19 are actually in a place of safety, the others are still in hospital being treated for burn wounds,” says Mazibuko.
Mazibuko says there are issues of intimidation in communities which make parents fear to report their missing or abducted boys to the police.
“The reason why they don't open cases, they get threatened and if you also don’t pay the money, you might not see your son. What they usually do, they then pay and keep quiet and not even tell the police because they say one of the parents did go and report. So they will kill your child and that’s why parents are afraid to even report because if I want to see my child I must just stay away from police," adds Mazibuko.