Par­ents seek jus­tice for son’s pit toi­let death

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

BY THE time Dr Kwena Se­laki Mat­lala ex­am­ined Michael Komape’s body two days af­ter his death, the six-year-old’s body was in­fested with mag­gots.

Bloody froth was foam­ing from his mouth, there was se­vere oedema in his brain and his lungs were en­larged.

Michael, found Mat­lala, had died be­cause he in­haled hu­man waste.

On Jan­uary 20 2014, Michael had stepped out of his Grade one class­room at the Mahlo­dumela Lower Pri­mary School in Lim­popo, near Polok­wane, to use the di­lap­i­dated pit toi­let when he fell into it and drowned.

On Mon­day his par­ents will start their quest for jus­tice. Rep­re­sented by law NGO Sec­tion27, they will be­gin their three-week trial against the Min­is­ter of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, the prin­ci­pal of the Mahlo­dumela Lower Pri­mary School and its school gov­ern­ing body, and the Lim­popo gov­ern­ment in the High Court in Polok­wane.

His par­ents state in court pa­pers that they have brought the ac­tion “in the in­ter­ests of their mi­nor chil­dren and other mi­nor chil­dren who at­tend schools in Lim­popo, but are un­able to in­sti­tute these pro­ceed­ings for them­selves, as well as in the pub­lic in­ter­est to vin­di­cate sev­eral con­sti­tu­tional rights that have been in­fringed”.

Sec­tion27 says the school in­structed other pupils at the school not to tell any­one about the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing Michael’s death or that he was in the pit.

This in­cluded “with­hold­ing the fact he was in the pit from his mother when she ar­rived at the school, trans­port­ing her to a day care fa­cil­ity in the area sup­pos­edly ‘in search of him’ when they knew or ought to have known, that Michael was in distress in the pit”.

“Thou­sands of Lim­popo learn­ers run the daily risk of meet­ing the same fate as Michael, forced to learn in di­lap­i­dated, filthy class­rooms, with empty stom­achs (as school feed­ing schemes col­lapse) and many with­out all their text­books. This is shame­ful,” says Sec­tion27.

Michael’s fam­ily is seek­ing more than R3 mil­lion in dam­ages as the child’s death was a re­sult of “wrong­ful, un­law­ful and neg­li­gent con­duct” as well as un­con­sti­tu­tional con­duct.

The fam­ily are still wait­ing for an apol­ogy from the gov­ern­ment. “It’s the de­cent, hu­man thing to do,” says No­mat­ter Nde­bele, of Sec­tion27, adding the out­come of the case could in­flu­ence san­i­ta­tion pol­icy across the coun­try.

But the de­fen­dants deny the toi­let was un­safe, un­se­cured or un­fit for hu­man use. “Save to ad­mit that on Jan­uary 20 2014, Michael fell into a pit toi­let at the school and died, it’s de­nied that Michael’s fall was a re­sult of the struc­ture of the toi­let not sup­port­ing his weight.

“Michael fell into a toi­let dur­ing play time. The in­jury could best be de­scribed as an ac­ci­dent.”

BE­REAVED: James and Rosina Komape, the par­ents of the sixyear-old Michael who died af­ter he fell into a pit toi­let.

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