SEVEN boys aged between 15 and 17 have died in illegal initiation schools in the Eastern Cape, a week after the start of the initiation season.

Last year at least 20 initiates died during the passage from boyhood to manhood in the province.

Two of the dead are from Mhlonhlo, another two from Flagstaff and one each from Mbizana, Ngqeleni and Mthatha.

Of the seven initiates, one lost his life after reportedly circumcising himself. Another allegedly died from dehydration.

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chairman Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana said the initiates died because certain customs and provisions of the initiation law were not followed.

“None of those initiates should have died,” said Nonkonyana.

One of the initiates allegedly used his 18-year-old brother’s ID to get circumcised.

“We send our sincere condolences to the families of the dead. At the same time we are very disturbed because some parents, especially mothers, work with the criminals operating these illegal schools,” Nonkonyana said.

“All the initiates that followed the proper procedures are well. This means we can achieve a zero death rate if we all follow the correct customs and laws,” Nonkonyana said.

He said 20 initiates in Mbizana were removed from illegal initiation schools and taken to rescue centres.

“I’m in touch with the police and they are helping us. We have our people on the ground who are working to make sure there are no more deaths.

“We are on course to save the lives of our boys,” he said.