Teachers, lodge were negligent in Mpianzi’s death — report

The list with the names of all the grade 8 Parktown Boys’ High School who attended the orientation camp had returned with the bus to Johannesburg when they were dropped off. This meant that the teachers at the camp could not establish that Enock Mpianzi was missing, because they did not have an accurate roll call list. 

This revelation was made in the forensic investigation report into Enock’s drowning at an orientation camp at Nyati Bush Lodge in January. 

In the aftermath of the 13-year-old’s death, the Gauteng department of education asked law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi Attorneys to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding it. 

The report is scathing and reveals the negligence of teachers, the lodge and the district office of the department of education. 

This missing roll call list

According to the report, Alex Meintjes, a teacher and a grade 8 head, called the driver to tell him that the list had been left in the bus, but the driver said he was unable to return to Nyati. 

A roll call list of all the grade 8 learners who had been accepted at the school was then used, after the school emailed it to the lodge. But this list showed that 11 learners were missing. Because the learners and facilitators had not indicated that anybody was missing after the water activity, the teachers assumed that the 11 learners had not attended the camp and “it was business as usual”. 

The report also points out that some of the teachers at the camp were preoccupied with other matters, and failed to pick up that there was a learner missing. For example, it says: “Mr Meintjes stated that he was extremely busy at Nyati on the afternoon of Wednesday 15 January 2020, as there was an issue in relation to the halaal food that was delivered, which was insufficient.”

The next day the camp activities continued, without anyone noticing that learner number 183 of the 214 learners who had attended the camp was missing. The report says: “It was left to the enrollment office of the school to phone around to the parents of the missing 11 learners …  who eventually confirmed, after speaking to the parents of Enock Mpianzi, that Enock Mpianzi was definitely an attendee at the Nyati Camp.”

The school had also not supplied Nyati with the list of learners who were attending the camp. 

“It is simply not acceptable for a camp to accept busloads of children not knowing who they are and then involving those learners in potentially hazardous exercises,” reads the report. 

Lack of life jackets

Even though the learners participated in a water challenge, they were not provided with life jackets. The manager of Nyati, Anton Knoetze, said the camp had only 12 life jackets and that they are used for “tubing, not this activity”. 

The school management had failed to ascertain whether Nyati had life jackets. When the principal, Malcolm Williams, was told during the process of the forensic investigation that Nyati had only 12 jackets he said: “… that’s mind-boggling”.

The report says: “When Mr Williams was asked why he did not ensure that the learners were wearing life jackets, he responded, ‘because I did not anticipate this exercise from … what it became … ’”

Teachers who were interviewed about whether they perceived any need for life jackets replied that they did not and that “there was no concern about anything really”. 

These teachers were also not present during the water activity by the learners. 

In the report, learners shared their horrific experiences of the water activity and said that the river’s current was very strong. 

Negligent supervision 

One learner said that their rafts broke apart. “I asked one of the instructors to help us because boys needed assistance from them; they didn’t respond. After the rafts broke, two boys were on top of me trying to save themselves and I was drowning under the water … When I got up two boys needed help ’cause they couldn’t know how to swim.

“I managed to push one out at the checkpoint and others kept on passing because the water current was too powerful … We got to a point where … everyone got caught up and, at the same time, I’m trying to save my life. Two of my friends saved me then we all got out and got help; then we got the other boys out.” 

Another learner said he approached one of the facilitators and shared that there were learners who were struggling because the water was too strong. “She, however, said that she could not swim and then called another facilitator on her phone for help.”

Meanwhile, another learner also said that after their raft broke apart, two boys hung onto him. “He managed to hang onto one and let the other go … The boy he let go was Enock Mpianzi.”

The report found that there were insufficient safety, care and control measures in place at the camp to ensure that no learner would come to harm in any way. It recommended, among other things, that disciplinary measures be taken against the teachers who were at the camp for negligence and recklessness. It also said that Nyati lodge should be held responsible and liable for the negligence and recklessness of its actions, which led to Mpianzi’s death.

Read the full report here:

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

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