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After Avethandwa: Basic education department to review excursions outside school hours

The basic education department says that it is looking at reviewing the role of third parties in school-related activities that take place outside normal school hours. 

This comes after the death of Avethandwa Nokhangela,15, who drowned at sea at the end of April, during school holidays, while attending an Equal Education (EE) leadership camp at Palm Springs Resort outside East London in the Eastern Cape. She was a grade 10 learner at Xolani High School in Qonce.

The spokesperson for the department, Elijah Mhlanga, told the Mail & Guardian this week that school excursions are governed by provisions that require permission to be granted by the district office. 

“In a case where schoolchildren are involved the request should have been made to the district, school and parents of the learners in question. In a case where the excursion happens during school holidays, arrangements should have been made prior to schools closing to obtain the necessary consent from all parties involved,” said Mhlanga. 

Two weeks ago the general secretary of EE, Noncedo Madubedube, told the M&G that the organisation did not need permission from the department of education to conduct its camps, nor from schools. She said parents gave permission for their children to attend the camps. 

Mhlanga said, “The department needs to review the role of third parties in school-related activities that take place during school holidays. The expectation currently is that anybody who organises such an activity must take responsibility for any matters that arise from the said activity. This is important in that teachers who are normally charged with supervising learners during school excursions were not part of the activity concerned.” 

Following Avethandw’s drowning, the Eastern Cape department of education said in a statement that it had instructed the Buffalo City metro education district manager to provide the MEC of education, Fundile Gade, with a report on whose authority the trip was taken.

The M&G has seen a report by the district director, Victor Mabece, which provided context to the death of Avethandwa and the role played by the school in the excursion. 

The one-and-a-half-page report, released by the provincial department, distances the school from any involvement in Avethandwa’s death. 

“The organisation of the outing was purely between Equal Education and the parents of the learners, as it happened when the learners were in the care of their parents during the autumn vacation,” the report reads. 

“The school distances itself from accountability in relation to the event that culminated in the death of the affected learner.” 

But Mhlanga said the national department was working with the provincial department to establish the facts about Avethandwa’s death. He said the provincial department was to submit a report by Monday. 

EE has said that its sister organisation, Equal Education Law Centre, is conducting a fact-finding investigation into the drowning and that the outcomes would be handed to an independent reviewer. 

“Disciplinary proceedings, if necessary, will be conducted depending on the outcomes of this investigation,” Madubedube told the M&G earlier this month.

“In addition, as a precautionary measure, we will undertake a review of all practices in relation to camp safety and will not hold any other camps until the finalisation of such a review,” she said.

Avethandwa’s family and EE have confirmed she was caught in a rip current and could not be saved, that there were no lifeguards at the beach and that there are visible signs warning against strong currents and dangerous swimming conditions.

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

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