Another young child drowns in school pit-latrine

A five-year-old girl has died after falling into a pit toilet at a primary school in the Eastern Cape, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga confirmed on Thursday.

Viwe Jali died at the Luna Primary School in Bizana, although it is still unclear what the exact cause of death was.

In a statement released on Thursday, Motshekga said she is “saddened” by Jali’s death and says her department is doing everything in its capacity to address infrastructure backlogs.

“The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable, and incredibly disturbing. I would like to send my sincere condolences to the family of our Viwe Jali, who passed away tragically on Tuesday. I cannot begin to know the trauma the parents are experiencing, it is truly a tragic incident and my sympathies are with them,” said Motshekga in a statement. 

The incident is reminiscent of the death of Michael Komape, a Grade R learner in Limpopo who also died in similar circumstances. Komape died in 2014 when he fell into a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School outside Polokwane and drowned in faeces. His family, assisted by advocacy group Section27, sued the Limpopo department of education and the department of basic education for R3-million in damages.

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

“Words cannot express the pain I personally feel at the loss of a young life in this horrific way,” the statement continued. “To know that as a sector we have not been able to address these infrastructure issues fast enough, for a number of reasons, breaks my heart. When a tragedy like this occurs it makes us more resolute of the continued need for the Accelerated School Infrastructure Initiative (ASIDI) so that we can continue to fast-track these schools that are in desperate need of infrastructure and make them safe havens for our children.” 

According to the department, 5 225 maintenance projects are under way around the country. The Eastern Cape has already exhausted its maintenance budget. 

The department said that despite progress made with the accelerated school infrastructure delivery initiative, more than R3.5-billion would be cut in the next three years from the initiative’s budget.

The cuts were part of a government-wide reprioritisation of funds, the department explained.

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