Officials ignored warning on Limpopo school toilets
LIMPOPO – During their final arguments in their lawsuit against the Department of Education representatives for the Komapes argued that the family deserve to be properly compensated for their loss.
Thursday saw the resumption of the trial in which the Komape family has lodged a suit against the Limpopo Department of Education after their son Michael (5) fell into a pit latrine when the toilet collapsed while he was using it in January 2014. He fell down the shaft and drowned in faeces, dying with his hand stretched up out of the muck.
Lawyers arguing in the Polokwane High Court said the Limpopo Education Department knew about the shocking condition of the toilets at Mahlodumela Primary School prior to the accident but had not repaired or secured them.
The trial – Rosina Komape versus the State – began last November. The Komapes are suing the Department of Education for trauma and shock they suffered when Michael died and his body was discovered by his mother, who fainted when she saw his lifeless hand reaching out.
“The Department of Education was fully aware of the state of toilets at Mahlodumela Primary School as evidenced in the testimony, but they did nothing to address the situation. It’s a case of recklessness because both the department and school knew that the toilets were not suitable to be used by primary school children,” said representative Adv Kate Hofmeyer.
She further explained to the court how the department ignored warnings from Section27 about the deplorable life threatening conditions of toilets in Limpopo schools. Michael Komape was only five when he went to use the pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng village, outside Polokwane, on 20 January 2014.
Rusty and dilapidated
The toilets, constructed by a local builder, were rusty and dilapidated.
“The school did not do enough to provide the safety of learners at their toilets as they knew that the toilets which were being used were meant to be temporary. They acted negligently,” said Hofmeyer.
Advocate Vincent Maleka, who together with Section27 is representing the Komape family in court, said relationships within the family were altered and negatively affected after the tragic passing of Michael.
“Michael’s brother became a forgetful child. There is a need for compensation from the state,” Adv Maleka told the court. “It was the state who took Michael into its care. The toilets were constructed by a local builder and not suitable for children, and it was the department who left those toilets to rust and grow old,” said Maleka.
The defense still remains unaccountable for the death of Michael. The loss of life is not adequately addressed. There cannot be a suggestion that the remedy of constitutional damages is not appropriate. It will be unfortunate to deny plaintiffs remedy.
Michael’s rights to life and dignity were violated. The court also heard that the Komapes had rejected an offer made by the defense to compensate Michael’s siblings, Lydia and Lucas Komape, with a payout of R10 000 each instead of the R100 000 they are asking for.
Parents Rosina and James Komape has also rejected an offer of R180 000 instead of the R250 000 they had claimed.
“Defendants have not been accountable and open … the modest amount offered by them does not reflect a commitment to the founding values of the constitution. The defense still remains unaccountable for the death of Michael. The loss of life is not adequately addressed. There cannot be a suggestion that the remedy of constitutional damages is not appropriate. It will be unfortunate to deny plaintiffs remedy,” Maleka said.
“When they (the Komapes) sent their son to the school, they believed that he would develop like other kids. We are dealing with human beings with expectations. Rosina sent her son to school to get educated,” added Maleka.
However, Adv Simon Phaswane for the defense said their decision to reduce the amounts claimed by the parents was justified on grounds that it is not possible to attach monetary value to the loss of life.
“It’s not that they want to underpay the family, but the court will consider what is fair,” he said.