/ 13 November 2017

Michael Komape’s mother relives seeing her dead son’s hand inside a pit toilet

For as long as this goes on, the harder it is for us as a family to move on, said Michael Komape’s father
For as long as this goes on, the harder it is for us as a family to move on, said Michael Komape’s father

It is almost three years since Michael Komape died and his family is yet to receive an apology from the Department of Basic Education, Limpopo Department of Education or even the school where his horrific death took place.

It was the start of little Michael’s schooling career when he met his untimely death on January 20, 2014.

He was a Grade R pupil at Mahlodumela primary school in Chebeng Village outside Polokwane, Limpopo.

Today, Michael’s mother – Rosina Komape – detailed the events of the day that led her to discovering her son’s hand inside a pit toilet at the school.

The 5-year-old drowned in faeces after falling inside what Rosina described as “rotten” toilets from the school.

Moments after taking the witness stand at the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane, Rosina, broke down in tears as she recalled the horrific death of her son. The court had to adjourn briefly to allow her to compose herself.

In 2015, advocacy group Section 27, acting on behalf of the family, brought a civil lawsuit against the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education demanding that the state pays damages because the pit toilet was not fit for human use.

The state is opposing the case.

The death of Michael shone the spotlight on poor sanitation at schools, especially rural schools.

Wearing a pink doek, purple jersey and a long dress, Rosina told the court that on the day of Michael’s death she was at home watching TV when she received a call from the principal at around 12pm telling her that her son was nowhere to be seen at school. The principal proceeded to say that when they find little Michael they would call her back.

As a mother, she refused to sit and wait for the school to call her back, she recalled.

She put her one month old baby on her back and rushed to the school.

Rosina said she arrived at the school and asked the teachers and the principal where her son was.

“They told me that they had last seen Michael at 10am. I asked them if they had looked everyone for him, even in the toilet and they said they looked everywhere and they were certain he was not at the toilets but they refused for me to go to the toilets,” she said.

Rosina said the teachers and the principal failed to tell her how come they had last seen her son at 10 am; and also did not offer any explanation on why they did not want her to go look for him at the toilets.

She defied the teachers and went to look for her son at the toilets anyway. However, fear stopped her from her tracks. She said she could not get any closer to the toilets.

She painted a harrowing picture of the state of the toilets. She told the court that there was tall grass surrounding the toilets made of “rotten” corrugated iron that you could see inside of the toilets from outside.

Still insisting that Michael was not in any of the toilets, Rosina said the principal then asked her if could it be that Michael had gone to where he used to attend creche.

“I told her that Michael does not go to play before coming home first to change out of his school uniform,” she said.

But anyway, they drove to the creche and it is where Rosina found the answer she was looking for: the whereabouts of her son.

A neighbour’s child, Tsego, who was also Michael’s friend was at the creche for aftercare and it was he who provided the unexpected answer.

“We asked Tsego if he had not seen Michael and he said Michael fell inside the toilet,” said Rosina fighting back tears.

When they were back at the school, Rosina said she does not even remember what happened to her month old baby that she had on her back and all she recalls was that she needed to find Michael.

“I took Tsego by the hand and led him to the toilets to go show me where Michael was.

When we arrived at the toilets Tsego pointed at the toilet and said ‘Michael fell in here’.

When I looked inside the toilet I saw Michael’s hand,” she said in between sobs “I then said that my child died asking for help.”

Rosina said Michael had took out his hand hoping that another child would rescue him and pull him out of the pit toilet.

She said she could not see the rest of his body but only his hand and she fainted.

Her first instinct when she woke up was that her child could still be saved. He was alive.

“I asked them to pull him out by the hand maybe we can save him. I thought if we pulled him out we could save him. The principal said they had called someone to pull him out.

I thought he was still alive and if we pulled him out and took him to hospital he would get help,” she said.

But by the time Michael was taken out of the pit toilet, Rosina had already been rushed home as she was to distraught to deal with the whole incident. Her husband, James, remained behind.

She told the packed court that no one from the DBE, provincial department of education or the school had come to her house to talk about the death of her child.

Rosina said days after Michael’s body was discovered from the pit toilet, the principal came to her house to tell that the school had received donations in the form of desks and chairs following the death of Michael. That’s all she said. She did not offer any words of condolences or apologise for the incident.

“No one came to apologise. It’s even worse from people from the school because the child died under their care,” she said.

Rosina said the start of the trial had opened old wounds that were starting to heal.

Advocate Vincent Maleka who is representing the family said their case was going to prove that the school tried to conceal the death of Michael, and that witnesses would be called to testify to this effect.

These include an eyewitness who had taken pictures on his phone and was asked by teachers at the school to delete them.

The family is suing the state for about R3-million in damages.

Rosina is expected back on the stand tomorrow morning. Other witnesses that will be called include Michael’s father and his two older siblings.

The case continues.