BEREA area chiefs have suspended initiation schools in the district amid allegations of commercialism and abuse of initiates by the instructors.
Ha ‘Mamathe Area Chief Leluma Masupha told the Lesotho Times this week that the suspension would only be lifted after a review of the laws guiding the operations of the initiation schools.
He said some of the instructors had “completely abandoned Basotho customs” by running the schools as commercial operations and disregarding the law.
“It had become the norm for initiation school instructors to focus on making money rather than nurturing young men and women into adulthood,” said Chief Masupha.
“Added to that, the instructors did not abide by the laws they were supposed to follow with regards to establishing and operating initiation schools.
“Firstly, the initiates must be 18-years old or older. But, of late, the instructors had been enrolling children below that age. The initiates must be mature so they can keep what they are taught confidential.
“If the initiates are not yet mature, they end up disclosing the secrets of the initiation school to the uninitiated, who should not know about it.”
He said the instructors had also wantonly raised the admission fees to make a profit from the initiation schools.
“According to our customs, the parents of a child attending an initiation school only offer a bag of mealie-meal or maize. But of late, the instructors were demanding a bowl usually known as sekotlolo sa sheleng of beans, a bag of cabbage, five litres of cooking oil and between M1 000 and M2 000 ostensibly for fire wood,” he said.
“What is shocking is that the money they claimed would be used to buy firewood would not serve that purpose because firewood comes from the area chief and is never paid for. So where was the money going to?”
Chief Masupha said the final straw for the area chiefs were the continued reports of abuse and even murder at the initiation schools.
“It is sad to see young people go to initiation schools alive and healthy, and then come back dead, injured or raped,” he said.
“Around October or November last year, an instructor in Sefikeng village assaulted a young boy until he died only because the youngster could not cope with the rigorous initiation and opted to run away. The instructor launched a man hunt for the boy, and when he found the poor child, he killed him.
“Late last year, there was also a fight between initiates and instructors in Ha Mohatlane village because the songs that were sung during the graduation ceremony were offensive. A number of instructors and some of the scholars were badly injured during the melee.”
Chief Masupha said there was also a current case of an instructor from Ha Thakampholo village who was arrested for sexually abusing girls from his initiation school. However, the chief would not be drawn to reveal more details saying the matter was being investigated by the police.
On when the suspension would be lifted, Chief Masupha said the area chiefs would decide after meeting members of the National Customary Laws and Practises Committee.
He said the area chiefs were planning to approach Members of Parliament (MPs) to discuss amending the Lerotholi customary laws which are used to charge offenders at initiation schools.
“The reason for the meeting with the National Customary Laws and Practices committee is to ask them to help us engage MPs to ensure the amendment of the Lerotholi laws,” said Chief Masupha. “Instructors had been taking advantage of the leniency of Lerotholi laws since our courts use them to charge offenders on matters to do with initiation schools.”
Contacted for comment, Berea District Commissioner Senior Superintendent Raphoka Ramachaea confirmed the police were investigating a case in which an instructor allegedly sexually abused an initiate.
“Berea police received a report about the matter, but unfortunately I can’t comment because investigations are still in progress,” Snr Sup Ramachaea said.
On his part, Council of Initiation Schools and Traditional Affairs Legal Adviser, Chief Borenahabokhethe Sekonyela, said abuses at initiation schools could be resolved by involving police officers who were also initiated.
“It is very important for the principal chiefs to engage police officers who participated in the initiation to help them regulate the schools,” he said.
“As the custodians of initiation schools, principal chiefs need to come up with more stringent requirements for establishing them. Perpetrators of any forms of abuse must be held accountable and charged.”
Chief Sekonyela also revealed that the Council of Initiation Schools and Traditional Affairs had drawn up a bill to regulate initiation schools. “The bill is currently with the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture and hopefully it will be passed in the National Assembly,” he said, adding that the bill clearly spells out the attributes of people who qualify to establish an initiation school, the age of initiates, their health status, and contributions per family as well as the penalties for offenses committed.