MASERU — Villagers in Makhoakhoeng in Butha-Buthe, about 60km north of the capital Maseru, are worried.
Since June at least three young men have been allegedly kidnapped and forcibly taken to an initiation school.
Kidnapping young boys and sending them to initiation schools has become common in the area, the villagers said.
Some parents who do not approve of the practice have tightened security for their boys.
But nothing, it seems, is stopping the kidnappers from snatching the boys and sending them for initiation.
Villagers in Makhoakhoeng blame initiation school owners, known as bo Ramophato, from carrying out the practice to enrich themselves.
The villagers allege that traditional school owners are sending young men during the dead of night to abduct young boys.
The villagers have reluctantly allowed the practice to go on for the sake of respecting their traditions.
But the villagers are not happy that the initiation practice is being driven solely for monetary gain.
‘Matimotiea Rakotu said her 16-year-old boy, Tankiso, was abducted from home by his cousins and forcibly sent to an initiation school.
Tankiso was sent to the initiation school without her parents’ consent, she said.
Rakotu said a cousin asked Tankiso to accompany him to a friend’s house around 8.30pm.
Rakotu said she was not worried when the two left home.
The two had always been close and she was sure they would watch each other’s back, she said.
As soon as they left she heard one of the cousins cry out for help.
“He called for help. He claimed they met a group of men on the way who took Tankiso with them,” Rakotu said.
“I had no doubt in my mind that he had been forcefully taken to initiation school. It had happened to one boy a few days before the incident.
“There was speculation that a group of local men were planning to take all young boys for initiation.”
She sent her elder sons to look for their brother but the kidnappers were nowhere to be found.
“They fled. I just prayed that they did not harm him. We would not go any further because they could harm us if we tried to stop them,” Rakotu said.
She realised later that her son had been taken to the initiation school.
“What irritated me was that I had not planned that my son would go for initiation this year. A lot of money is needed for these initiation ceremonies,” she said.
Rakotu said she had no choice but to pay the heavy fees demanded by the school authorities.
She also had to provide money to buy food for her son.
“We pay a lot of money. They charge unreasonable prices. It seems like they want to enrich themselves with our money,” she said.
Rakotu said she was ordered to pay M1 000 to the owners running the initiation school.
“They said M500 was to pay for a traditional doctor who was going to perform a fortification on the initiates.
“The other M500 was for the initiates’ food before they are transferred to temporary shelters in the mountain,” she said.
Rakotu said she could hardly afford to pay such an exorbitant amount which is slightly more than the average wage for Lesotho’s factory workers.
She said parents were also forced to pay money for the initiates’ medical attention in case they fell sick in the mountains.
“Then there is money for a small feast which is done before they come back. The owner of the initiation school throws a big feast for the boys before releasing them to their respective homes.
“But I do not have that kind of money. It is just too much for me,” Rakotu said.
Disgruntlement over the manner the traditional initiation schools are being run is running deep in the village.
Villagers say while there is nothing wrong with the practice they were not happy with the manner in which the tradition has been commercialised.
Ramoko Seako said most initiation school owners were in the business to make quick money.
The practice has unfortunately been transformed from a proud cultural symbol into a greedy business, Seako said.
He said materialism had crept into the practice over the years.
“The tradition has been changed into a business. Everyone wants to open an initiation school to rip parents of their money,” Seako said.
He said the demand to pay “initiation fees” was a sharp departure from Sesotho traditions.
“During the olden days, no one paid a cent toward their initiation. Initiation school owners did it all out of will. They felt it was their responsibility to groom boys into young men,” Seako said.
“So it was not business for young boys like what we see today. It was only performed by grown-up men. Money was not so important.
“It was up to every individual parent to decide how to thank the men for grooming their boys into men,”
Those running the initiation schools have rejected charges that they are ripping off parents.
Malebanye Phelane, who runs an initiation school at Senekane in Berea, said charges that they were over-charging parents were patently false.
He said they only charged the “little” that they did to ensure the safety and well-being of the initiates.
Phelane said the prices they were charging were quite reasonable given the “current economic meltdown”.
He also said the cost of food had ballooned over the past few months.
“It is not true that we over-charge the initiates’ parents,” Phelane said.
He bizarrely claimed that the current charges were set by the government.
“The first charge is that which parents pay a traditional doctor who would fortify the initiates to protect them from harm by evil spirits. The fortification, which is called lenaka, costs M450,” he said.
He said those who joined the school late had to pay a higher fee, ba titimelang.
“We need to buy good food for the boys for their well being. Good food does not come cheap,” Phelane said.
Malefetsane Liau, from the Council of Traditional Doctors in Lesotho, said there were some people who were bent on destroying initiation traditions by turning them into businesses.
“The initiation tradition like any other should not be a business. However some people are bent on destroying it,” Liau said.
He said under the traditional law no ramophato should charge above M450 per child for initiation.
“There is no ramophato who is allowed to charge anything beyond M450 for the acceptance, services and protection of every one of the initiates,” he said.
He said the law further stipulated that every child should be initiated with the consent of parents or guardians.
“A ramothapo should initiate only 50 children or less. Parents should first give consent for their children’s initiation.”
Under Lesotho’s customary law, a ramophato should at least be 45 years old. Initiates should also not be younger than 17 years.
But despite all these precautions scores of young boys have died during the initiation ceremonies.