Michael Komape: Court hears Limpopo education dept planned pauper burial

The Limpopo High Court heard yesterday that the provincial education department was planning to give Michael Komape a pauper burial, after learning from the family that it did not have money to bury him.

Michael, five, died three years ago after falling into a pit toilet and drowning in faeces at Mehlodumela Primary School outside of Polokwane.

Yesterday, the defence brought its first witnesses after Section27, which is representing the family in the civil lawsuit case, concluded its case.

Supervisor of social service providers in the Capricorn district, Reina Molapo, testified that she had gone to see the family two days after Michael died to ascertain what had happened, give the family counselling and to also understand the needs of the family. Molapo works for the provincial social development department.

She told the court that she had found Rosina – Michael’s mother – in a hysterical state and she was in disbelief that her child had died after falling into a pit latrine.

“The mother mentioned that she did not have money to bury the child and as social workers we went back to the office to compile a report and send it for immediate attention for arranging a pauper burial of their son,” said Molapo.

She, however, said when she returned to the family home the following day, Rosina had told her that a local undertaker had offered to bury Michael.

“If Ms Komape did not say to you, stop arranging the burial of that kind that you were arranging, poor Michael was going to receive a pauper burial?,” asked family counsel Chris Maleka.

However, Molapo was at pains justifying that there was nothing wrong with a pauper burial.

“Your worship, my lord, you know a pauper burial is a standard burial that is offered to any person in South African. I do not know what your understanding of a pauper burial is, but it does not mean you are buried like this bottle [a water bottle]. A pauper burial is a decent burial … there is a herse, there is a coffin, we are there … I don’t know what is your understanding of a pauper burial but it is not an indecent kind of burial,” explained Molapo.

At the beginning of the trial Michael’s parents – Rosina and James – had testified that they buried their children through donations and did not receive any help from the Limpopo department of education. Rosina said the department had brought groceries to the family but those were finished even before the day of the funeral.

But state counsel, Simon Pashwane, had said that a witness would be called to testify that the department was there during funeral arrangements and it was even the one that arranged for the local undertaker to bury Michael.

Last week former spokesperson for the provincial department of education, Phuti Seloba, commented on a Facebook post by a local journalist that the family had said in court that it did not receive any assistance from government.

Seloba said the provincial department buried Michael. He said he was the one who spoke to the local undertaker for the burial and the department bought food which was delivered in two bakkies.

He said an official from the Polokwane Municipality brought a cow, tents and chairs.

He said they would “expose the lies” in court.

“The family didn’t spend a cent on the funeral despite accepting some money from two policy parties (sic),” wrote Seloba.

The Mail & Guardian understands that Seloba is one of the witnesses that is going to be called by the defence.

Molapo also testified that the family had received five counselling sessions following Michael’s death. This is despite the family saying that they never received any counselling provided by the department, but only started receiving counselling in 2016 which was organised by Section27.

Molapo said she had conducted the two counselling sessions and she delegated the follow-up visits to social workers.

But she could not produce evidence in the form of records that proved that indeed she visited the family and that there were further subsequent visits. This is even though she had claimed that there were records proving that she and other social workers had visited the family.

Maleka said it was “unthinkable” that Rosina would come to court and lie that she had not received counselling from the state if she had.

“In the past 20 years that I have been a social worker and supervisor, I have never lied. I understand the principles of my profession. I would never lie and say I visited your place if I didn’t , that would be unprofessional in my position. I did conduct (visits on) day one and two and I did conduct a visit to the school. I can confirm that,” said Molapo.

Asked by Maleka why she did not have the records she claimed she had to prove her visits, Molapo said: “No one requested the documentation, no one has ever said anything about them. I was surprised on Tuesday when I was told that [I was going to be a witness]. I asked ‘why only now?’ because no one has ever said anything about us testifying or submitting the documents for the court purposes.”

The court later learnt from social worker Zanele Hlongwane that one of the five visits Molapo claimed were made to the family for counselling happened at Mehlodumela Primary School.

Hlongwane said she had met James at the school during a Mandela Day event which the school also used as a day to commemorate Michael’s death. She testified that because on the days she went to the Komape house James was not there, she had asked to see him in the principal’s office at the school and gave him counselling.

She said she had not pre-arranged a meeting with him before seeing him at the school.

Molapo testified that after the alleged five visits to the family, she had concluded in her records that the family was fine and was coping with the death.

But last week, clinical psychologist Steven Molepo who started seeing the family in October 2016 through the assistance of Section27, said the family had still not made peace with Michael’s death and needed further counselling.

The trial is back on Monday where further witnesses for the defence are going to be called.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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