Disappointment and disbelief were etched on the faces of Rosina and Maloti Komape, the parents of Michael Komape, after the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane dismissed their general and constitutional claims for R3-million on Monday.
Michael’s parents lodged several claims against the Basic Education Department after Michael, 5, drowned in a pit latrine in 2014.
One claim related to emotional trauma and shock that the family experienced. Another claim was for R2-million for the grief that the family experienced.
A constitutional claim was made on the basis that the department failed to fulfil its duties in caring for Michael. Claims were also made for future medical expenses and funeral costs.
However, on Monday Judge Gerrit Muller dismissed the claims, and instead ruled that two of Michael’s siblings be paid R6 000 each for general medical expenses.
He also ordered a structural interdict to supply and install toilets that are safe and secure in rural schools in the province. The basic education department has until July 30 to submit a plan to the court on how this will be done.
“The case is not only about Michael and his family. The case is about the plight of learners attending schools in the rural areas across the province of Limpopo,” said Muller in his judgment.
The 5-year-old boy drowned in a pit latrine at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng village, north-west of Polokwane, four years ago.
In November last year the department made a partial settlement of R100 000 toward funeral costs, loss of income and psychological medical expenses.
The family had launched its civil claim with the assistance of advocacy group Section 27.
“We are disappointed with the judgment, we had hoped that the Komape family would get constitutional damages, which was dismissed by the judge,” Section 27’s lawyer Shanice Linderboom told reporters outside the court.
The advocacy group says it is still studying the judgment and will take further instruction from the family.
“We anticipate that we will be appealing the damages aspect of the judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal,” it said in a statement.
The hearing brought pit latrines at rural schools into the spotlight.
Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department would fast-track the process to get rid of pit toilets.
“We have noted the order that we have to provide information to the court, fortunately that is the information the Presidency had already ordered,” said Mhlanga.
“We are currently in the process of putting together an audit of all the schools with pit latrines,” he said adding that a plan to eradicate pit latrines would be costed.
Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered Education Minister Angie Motshekga to provide information on the state of pit latrines after another pupil suffered a fate similar to Michael’s and drowned in a pit toilet in the Eastern Cape. – News24