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Partial settlement agreed in Michael Komape case

The defendants in the Michael Komape case have already settled about R100 000 of the R3-million claimed in damages by the Komape family after five-year-old Michael fell into a pit latrine at school and died.

The family, with the help of advocacy group Section27, brought the lawsuit in 2015 against the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education.

The Mail & Guardian learnt this morning from the Section27 legal team that on November 16 the legal teams met for outside court negotiations and the following day a partial settlement was made an official order of the court.

In terms of the partial settlement, the department has paid R34 000 for funeral expenses, R21 000 for loss of income and R79 000 for past and future psychological fees.

But the family is also claiming R2-million for grief and R940 000 for emotional trauma and shock. Earlier in the trial, Michael’s mother, Rosina testified that following her son’s death she had lost her job as a domestic worker where she earned R1080 for working three days a week. She had stayed away from work for some time after her son’s death and when she tried to return, she found she had been fired.

Clinical psychologist, Steven Molepo, testified earlier in the week that the family had not found closure with Michael’s death and will still require counselling in future.

Former principal at Mehlodumela Primary School, Maphalane Malothane, told the court this morning that the school had hired an ordinary man from the village to build the four corrugated temporary pit toilets for pupils, one of which Michael fell into.

She testified yesterday that she had started writing to the provincial department of education 10 years prior to Michael’s death asking for new toilets for the school, but never received any response. The school then used its own fees to buy building material to build the toilets and paid a villager to build them.

Asked by family counsel, Vincent Maleka, if the school had called anyone after building the toilets to inspect if they were fit and safe for use, Malothane said she had not.

She also said that years after they had been built she was aware that some of the toilet seats were old and rusted but pupils still used them. Malothane said the toilets were not maintained but there were people who cleaned them regularly, adding that she used to inspect them once in awhile.

However, in the week that Michael died she had not inspected them — despite it being a week after schools re-opened for the December holidays.

The defendants concluded their case today, with closing arguments scheduled for February 1 and 2, 2018.

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

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