Wounds that will not heal

CityPress - - News -

Time has not healed the fam­ily of Michael Komape (6), who drowned in hu­man ex­cre­ment af­ter fall­ing into a di­lap­i­dated pit toi­let at his school in Lim­popo three years ago. Michael’s brother Moses (12), who is in Grade 6, is still haunted by night­mares af­ter his brother’s hor­rific death at Mahlo­dumela Lower Pri­mary School in Chebeng, 20km from Polok­wane, on Jan­uary 20 2014.

“He is still trou­bled. He saw ev­ery­thing,” says Michael’s mother, Mankone Komape (46).

At times, she hears Moses, who used to walk to school with Michael ev­ery morn­ing, talk­ing about the in­ci­dent in his sleep. His school marks have dropped and he is with­drawn.

“He still plays with other chil­dren. But when you men­tion this in­ci­dent, he be­comes re­ally sad. I don’t know how he is go­ing to cope in court,” says Mankone.

To­mor­row, the Lim­popo High Court in Polok­wane is set to hear a case in which the Komape fam­ily is su­ing Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga, the MEC for the Lim­popo depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion, the prin­ci­pal of Mahlo­dumela and the school’s gov­ern­ing body. The Komapes’ two el­der chil­dren, Mok­i­belo and Kho­motso, are the third and fourth plain­tiffs.

Moses, who wit­nessed his mother’s ag­o­nis­ing screams as Michael’s life­less body was re­trieved from the toi­let, is set to give ev­i­dence in the law­suit.

The fam­ily says in its sub­mis­sion to the court that the de­part­ments and the school gov­ern­ing body breached their con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tions. They are de­mand­ing a pay­ment of R940 000 for emo­tional trauma and shock, and a fur­ther R2 mil­lion for the grief they suf­fered. The Komapes are also de­mand­ing a sum of R208 454.80 for fu­ture med­i­cal ex­penses, fu­neral costs and loss of earn­ings.

Sit­ting at his wife’s side in the fam­ily’s lounge this week, Michael’s father James Komape (51) says: “We are ready for this bat­tle.”

The hands of time have not eased the pain of los­ing their son. Mankone pauses of­ten to com­pose her­self as she flips open the tragic pages of mem­ory. Tears well up in her eyes. Her voices rises in a mix­ture of anger, grief and frus­tra­tion.

James speaks slowly, his low voice heavy with grief. He has watched his other chil­dren suf­fer in si­lence, griev­ing for their dead lit­tle brother.

“We sent the child to school. He fell into a toi­let. The toi­lets were di­lap­i­dated. They had no doors,” he says.

Komape re­ceived news of Michael’s death while walk­ing home from the tribal author­ity. He and other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity had vis­ited the author­ity to ask for a piece of land on which they hoped, through do­na­tions, to build a li­brary for local chil­dren.

The grisly sight of his son’s hand pro­trud­ing from the depths of the pit toi­let con­tin­ues to haunt him. “To see my son like that,” he pauses. “That was painful, very painful. In my en­tire life, I had never seen a hu­man dy­ing in a toi­let.”

Komape says Michael’s death has si­lenced the laugh­ter and merry chit-chat that once pre­vailed in their home.

“My fam­ily is hurt. My wife is al­ways cry­ing. My chil­dren are al­ways sad. There is no more laugh­ter in the home. There is no more con­ver­sa­tion among us. Ev­ery­one just sits in si­lence,” he says.

Lobby group Sec­tion 27 and the Te­beila Foun­da­tion have joined the case as friends of the court. Sec­tion 27 ar­ranged coun­selling for the fam­ily, and Mankone says the ses­sions have helped, but she is wor­ried about Moses, who is set to at­tend more ses­sions.

“The pain we felt should never be felt by an­other par­ent,” says Mankone. “We are do­ing this so that oth­ers should not suf­fer like we did. We want gov­ern­ment to help; to build proper toi­lets in schools.”

The depart­ment is op­pos­ing the Komapes’ law­suit on the grounds that “the in­ci­dent can best be de­scribed as an ac­ci­dent”. In its plea sub­mis­sion to the court, the depart­ment ar­gues that the toi­let into which Michael fell was nei­ther di­lap­i­dated nor un­safe, and there­fore its state could not have led to the boy’s fall.

The depart­ment also de­nies that it, its of­fi­cials, or school au­thor­i­ties could have known that the toi­let was un­safe. It also de­nies that the toi­let seat was loose, un­bal­anced and could not sup­port Michael’s weight – as ar­gued in the Komapes’ sub­mis­sion.

Last month, dur­ing a meet­ing to dis­cuss the depart­ment’s 2016/17 an­nual re­port, the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion heard that the depart­ment per­formed badly in re­spect of the re­place­ment of in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­fra­struc­ture at schools, and in re­spect of the

PHOTO: LU­CAS LEDWABA

TOO MUCH PAIN James and Mankone Komape at their home in Lim­popo

Michael Komape, two months be­fore he died

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