Grisly initiation rite

News  New Zealand Herald (Auckland). Wednesday, 3 July 2002.


Circumcision Hell, 5 dead, 18 live to tell the tale

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa is convulsed in soul-searching after details emerged of an initiation rite in which five young men were killed and 19 injured in scenes reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

The horrific details of the ceremony are being revealed by those who survived the ordeal on Nooitgedacht Farm, in a remote area near the mountain town of Heidelberg, about 40km east of Johannesburg.

Some of the victims, teenagers and young men, were lured to the bush under the pretext that the manhood initiation ceremony would be fun-filled.

But instead the boys were crudely circumcised, beaten and left naked in freezing temperatures. Others were kidnapped and forced to join in.

Those who survived narrowly escaped having to eat the heart of one boy, who was beaten to death, by the time the police had arrived on Wednesday.

At traditional initiation ceremonies, young men, mostly aged 18, undergo rituals and are given guidance and advice for their transition into manhood. The ceremonies, which last about three to four weeks, are run by inyangas, or traditional healers.

The ceremonies are normally held in winter and naked boys are protected from the cold by rudimentary shacks they build themselves.

But details of the scene at two camps in the bush on Nooitgedacht Farm have shocked South Africans.

Within one camp, a makeshift structure covered with plastic, hardly large enough to shelter two adults, let alone 32 of them, had been erected. This is where the young men were kept for nearly three weeks.

One survivor, Allan Mofokeng, 14, related the ordeal of one of the victims, Amos Mkhwanazi, 22, who died after trying to escape. He says Mkhwanazi was found a few hours after he ran away and brought back to the camp where he was stripped naked, had icy water thrown over him, and was thrashed with a heavy stick.

Five men responsible for the camps have been charged with murder and assault.

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