Education and child experts have revealed to The Star that the initiation ceremony at Parktown Boys' High School earlier this month was not an isolated incident, and occurred frequently in South African high schools and universities.
Kathy Callaghan of the Governor's Alliance, a parent organisation, said she frequently received reports from parents whose children were being physically abused and bullied at school.
"One of the common traits is that every parent wants to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, but the truth is that if more parents come forward, then this practice would stop," Callaghan said.
She added that there was a very active old-boys network that not only threatened children who had been victims, but also their parents if they reported the incidents. The Star has been inundated with hundreds of calls, text messages and emails from parents who have experienced the heartache of seeing their sons go through these abusive situations at school, but fear their names being made public because of victimisation.
Parents and pupils have contacted The Star to speak out about their experiences. A 16-year-old was subjected to so much physical abuse in the Parktown Boys' hostel that he is now seeing a psychologist and is on medication.
Other parents have reported that some initiation ceremonies also contained sexual abuse. One boy was asked to suck another boy's penis. One mother said both her sons in Grade 8 were forced to watch a pornographic movie and had to masturbate together in a room.
"My main question is: why is this being kept so silent? It has to come out once and for all," Callaghan said, adding that keeping abuse hidden could lead to bigger problems for children.
She knows of one case where a teenager was beaten two years ago. He told his parents, who opened a case against the school, but because of victimisation, it was withdrawn.
The teenager killed himself a month ago because of the pain it had caused him, Callaghan said. She has also heard of headmasters challenging parents who lay criminal charges, saying, "We know how to deal with those".
"This whole initiation/ bullying thing is unacceptable. People keep on saying it has been happening for years, so it must be okay, but just because it has been happening doesn't mean it is right," she said.
One mother told The Star that she had to take her son out of a boys' school in Pretoria last year because he was subjected to violent initiation ceremonies whichwere dismissed by the school, instead of being taken seriously.
The mother said she had heard through a network of
parents that many have had to take their sons out of boys' schools in Gauteng because of violent initiations.
Joan van Niekerk, the national co-ordinator of Childline, said the Parktown Boys' incident was not an initiation, but rather a form of bullying and an abuse of power.
Their call centre had been inundated with reports of bullying, mostly at boys' schools. The Department of Education's director-general has said this kind of activity was strictly prohibited and has urged parents to call the department's hotline and report any incidents.
Calls can be made anonymously.
SA Human Rights Commission chairperson Jody Kollapen said letters had been sent to Parktown Boys' and the Department of Education asking them what they would be doing about the incidents and asking them to put guidelines in place to ensure it won't happen again.