Michael Komape’s school needed new toilets over a decade ago

The former principal of Mahlodumela Primary School told the Limpopo High Court today that she made repeated requests for new toilets for the school from as far back as 2004 from the Limpopo department of education.

Maphalane Malothane was the principal at the school – which is outside Polokwane – when Michael Komape, 5, fell into a pit toilet and died in 2014.

She was testifying in the claim for damages brought by the Komape family, with the help of advocacy group Section27, against the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education.

Molathane said after not receiving a response from the department in 2004, she made another application in 2005 but once again did not receive any feedback. She then travelled to the department’s circuit office in 2005 to enquire and the circuit director told her that he had submitted everything to the head office.

The toilets were starting to become a health hazard and that is why she had made an application for new toilets, she said. “They were not good and we did not want them,” said Malothane.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that in 2008 and 2009, Malothane had again written to the department requesting for new toilets. After hearing nothing after writing to the department four times, the school decided to use its own funds to build four corrugated toilets in 2009. One of these toilets will later claim Michael’s life.

M&G reported that the school had used about R8 000 to build the toilets, and that a civil engineer, David Still, had testified in court earlier in the trial that the material used to build the toilets was the cheapest on the South African market.

The department only built the school toilets following Michael’s death even though they had known 10 years before his death that the school had dilapidated toilets.

Malothane also told the court that she was Michael’s class teacher in Grade R and that she had noticed he went missing after break when she was marking the register. She testified that she asked Michael’s friends if they had seen him and they told her that they had last seen him during break.

“I then went to ask Michael’s brother, Moses, if he had seen Michael and he told me that he also last saw him during break,” she said. Moses was a grade ahead of Michael at the same school.

Malothane said she then called Michael’s mother – Rosina – and told her that Michael had went missing, this was after she and other teachers had looked for him.

When Rosina arrived they looked for him all over the school and also proceeded to the “vicinity” of the toilets to look for him but they could not find Michael, said Malothane.

“We then decided to go look for him in the village using our cars and Michael’s mother went into a car with one of the teachers,” she said.

Rosina testified at the start of the trial that Michael’s friend was the one who told them that he had fallen into a toilet.

Malothane also testified that the school governing body (SGB), herself and teachers at the school supported the Komape family and had visited the family before and after the funeral.

“The last time I interacted with the family was on Tuesday after the funeral. Mrs Komape was sitting with a group of women and told them that I and the SGB were there people who killed her child,” she said.

She also said she did not explain to the family the circumstances that led to Michael’s death because they were there when his body was discovered.

The trial continues tomorrow and Malothane will be back on the witness stand. 

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