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The boys, aged between eight and 12 years, were taken by a security guard to a back room at Maake Plaza's Shoprite at Rita, near Lenyenye in Limpopo.
They were first scolded and then ordered to slap each other. The ordeal is said to have lasted about two hours.
The children took turns in slapping each other, while staff watched, laughed and made "silly" remarks.
In heart-wrenching video footage taken on November 20, the four young friends are seen in a room with a table and chairs. A boy in a white sweater is standing while a security guard uncuffs him.
The guard is talking to the boy. The boy shakes his head as though he is disagreeing with the guard.
Moments later, the boy walks towards his friends and starts to assault a friend in a black shirt by slapping him. Then the boy screams in pain.
The boy in the white sweater moves to slap his other friend in a grey sweater and red vest.
In the background, a man is heard saying in Tsonga: "Tell them to stop stealing ..."
The guard is seen holding one of the boy's hands while his friend slaps him.
The man further says: "They will come back for you. You are not doing anything ..."
This could be interpreted as that the boy hitting the other one was not hitting him hard enough. A female staffer is seen handing a facial towel to one of the boys who is crying uncontrollably.
An employee said the stolen chocolates could not have cost more than R30. "The security guard is the one who ordered them to slap each other. It is wrong. It is definitely abuse," said the employee.
Shoprite spokeswoman Sarita van Wyk has confirmed the incident and said they would take action against those involved.
Van Wyk said three contracted security personnel from two independent companies were involved.
They had acted against the company policy that states that any occurrence of detention on suspicion of shoplifting must be reported to the branch manager to take charge of the situation.
"At no time was it reported to any member of store management that three minors were apprehended."
Van Wyk said any staff member who had looked on during the incident would also be suspended pending the investigation.
"While it was not in its power to stop the incident due to a lack of knowledge, the Shoprite Group would like to demonstrate its goodwill towards the boys by inviting their parents or carers to make contact with the branch manager to assist with counselling," Van Wyk said.
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