CityPress - - News - ATHANIDWE SABA and S’THEM­BILE CELE athandiwe.saba@city­press.co.za

e was found in a pool of hu­man ex­cre­ment in Jan­uary last year, his body in­fested with mag­gots and froth com­ing out of his mouth.

This was the grue­some pic­ture painted in court pa­pers by public in­ter­est law cen­tre Sec­tion 27 to de­scribe the death of six-year-old Michael Komape, who drowned in a pit la­trine at his pri­mary school in Chebeng vil­lage, Lim­popo. Sec­tion 27 is now as­sist­ing his par­ents to sue the Lim­popo ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment for R3 mil­lion be­cause of al­leged rights vi­o­la­tions that led to the drown­ing.

All the boy wanted to do was use the toi­let at his school, Mahlo­dumela Lower Pri­mary, in Lim­popo, last year in Jan­uary. But what passed for a toi­let at the school was merely a di­lap­i­dated cor­ru­gated iron struc­ture with a loose seat that could not sus­tain lit­tle Michael’s body weight.

He drowned in hu­man ex­cre­ment and, ac­cord­ing to pa­pers filed late last month at the South Gaut­eng High Court by Sec­tion 27, Michael died as a re­sult of in­hal­ing ex­cre­ment, urine and other pu­trid sub­stances.

The pa­pers read: “The body was in­fested with mag­gots ... bloody froth was com­ing from the mouth ... there was se­vere oedema [build-up of fluid] in the brain and the lungs were en­larged.”

Ac­cord­ing to Michael’s mother, Rosina Komape, the school prin­ci­pal called her, ask­ing her where the lit­tle boy was be­cause he had not come back af­ter break­time.

“We searched ev­ery­where, ask­ing peo­ple on the street, and the teach­ers also helped to look ... only to find out later that the whole time they knew that my son had drowned in the toi­let,” she said.

A fam­ily friend, Charles Mal­a­bana, who was at the school be­fore the lit­tle body was found, said Rosina “sim­ply col­lapsed when she saw Michael’s hand reach­ing out from the sewage dammed in the pit la­trine”. The fam­ily had not been the same since, he added. “Rosina has found it very hard to cope with this. She was deeply trau­ma­tised to see her son in that smelly place. It’s been re­ally painful for all of us,” he said.

Rosina does not want to re­live the day she found her son’s life­less body and prefers to speak about the case against the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

“I am thank­ful to Sec­tion 27 for their help and hope that this will help and that no other child will die like that,” she said.

Faranaaz Ve­ri­ava, a se­nior re­searcher at Sec­tion 27, said this was quite an un­usual case, as it was the first time con­sti­tu­tional dam­ages were be­ing re­quested for neg­li­gence, pain and suf­fer­ing.

“The kinds of dam­ages we are ask­ing for here are re­lated to the rights vi­o­la­tion that has oc­curred to the fam­ily, and we are ask­ing for a whole lot of mon­e­tary dam­ages too. “It’s such an aw­ful story,” added Ve­ri­ava. The pa­pers state that the de­fen­dants – in­clud­ing Lim­popo ed­u­ca­tion, the prin­ci­pal and the school gov­ern­ing body – knew or ought to have known that the toi­let Michael fell into was un­safe, un­se­cured and un­fit for hu­man use, par­tic­u­larly by young pupils.

“At the time of the death of the late Michael, the third de­fen­dant [the school] and teach­ers at Mohlo­dumela ex­er­cised care and con­trol of the late Michael and were in loco par­en­tis ... they owed a duty of care to the late Michael,” read the pa­pers.

Ve­ri­ava said they wanted an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the con­sti­tu­tional vi­o­la­tions that had oc­curred and the egre­gious na­ture in which Michael died.

“He died in con­di­tions where the toi­lets in schools in Lim­popo are ap­palling, and we will have to as­sess to what ex­tent there have been un­der­tak­ings made in re­la­tion to the over­all im­prove­ment of the san­i­ta­tion con­di­tions in Lim­popo,” she said.

Ve­ri­ava added that this case was not only brought on be­half of the fam­ily, but for all pupils in Lim­popo. Michael’s fa­ther, James Komape, said he wanted his son’s mem­ory to live on. “He was such a beau­ti­ful child, who loved to sing – es­pe­cially the lit­tle po­ems he learnt at school. He was so in­tel­li­gent and would pick up any­thing so quickly,” said the fa­ther.

To en­sure that his son leaves a legacy, James has reg­is­tered an NGO so that he can build a li­brary in his vil­lage, which he plans to name af­ter his son.

The depart­ment said it had not yet re­ceived the court pa­pers.

‘Lim­popo drags feet on norms and stan­dards’

The depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion has fi­nally re­leased the pro­vin­cial im­ple­men­ta­tion plans for norms and stan­dards for in­fra­struc­ture for Lim­popo af­ter nu­mer­ous protests from rights groups.

Sec­tion 27’s Faranaaz Ve­ri­ava told City Press they had a num­ber of con­cerns about the plan. “One thing is that the depart­ment has given it­self a three-year plan for the erad­i­ca­tion of pit la­trines.

“What they are say­ing is that they have ex­tended the dead­lines from 2016, and now it will be 2019. They are giv­ing them­selves another three years, yet this is a sit­u­a­tion of ur­gency. This is not the only school with toi­lets like these. The depart­ment is fail­ing the learn­ers like Michael,” she said.


TER­RI­BLE DROWN­ING Grade R pupil Michael Komape died when he fell into a pit toi­let like one of these at Mahlo­dumela Lower Pri­mary School in Chebeng vil­lage, Lim­popo


DEV­AS­TATED James and Rosi­nah Komape dur­ing their son’s fu­neral in Jan­uary

BE­FORE THE TRAGEDY Six-year-old Michael Komape in a hos­pi­tal bed

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