SAHRC investigates alleged torture and death of a woman at an initiation school in Nothern Cape
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16 JANUARY 2013
ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters
The South African Human Rights Commission has noted with concern and shock reports of the death of a young Northern Cape woman Gabaediwe Motsage after she was allegedly tortured, physically assaulted and burned at an initiation school in Hartswater, along the border with the North West Province.
We are also disturbed by reports of police’s inaction in this matter until only after the young woman had died.
We can confirm that we have received a formal complaint from the Democratic Alliance. The DA alleges that the activities at the initiation school resulted in human rights violations of the initiates who are women.
They also believe that the death of one initiate could have been avoided had the local police acted swiftly after concerned parents asked the police for assistance in freeing their children and in shutting down the school.
The Commission will launch an investigation into this matter. The Commission has dispatched investigators to the area of Hartswater today (Wednesday) to conduct an inspection, and to gather evidence from the complainant and the victims.
We condemn this incident and call on authorities to monitor the mushrooming of illegal initiation schools in the province.
The Commission also calls on the law enforcers to ensure that those responsible are brought to book.
It is worth noting though that initiation schools are part of our cultural practices and are protected by the Constitution. The schools are regarded as cultural educational institutions.
However, initiation schools, like any other school, operate under laws to ensure the safety of initiates. The laws also deal with the observation of health standards, granting of the permission for operation of the initiation school, and granting of the permission to circumcise. Parental consent is also provided for.
In noting that persons belonging to a cultural group have a right to enjoy their culture, the Commission recognizes the vulnerability of women as a group, in a patriarchal society. The Commission also recognizes that there are certain initiation practices on women which have been identified as mutilation.
As such, the Commission will condemn any practice which is imposed on women against their will, and which may be determined to constitute mutilation. In that instance, the Commission would call upon the relevant authorities to ensure the protection of women in those circumstances, and also to ensure their access to justice.
South African Human Rights Commission