South African court awards $70,000 to family of boy who drowned in school pit toilet

Novieku Babatunde Adeola December 19, 2019
Michael Komape and his family. Photo: BBC

South Africa’s appeals court has granted damages to the family of Michael Komape, the five-year-old boy who fell into a pit latrine in his school and drowned.

Judges ordered the Department of Basic Education to pay Komape’s family 1.4m rand ($70,000) for emotional shock, despite earlier claims by the department that they are not responsible for his death.

Speaking on behalf of a unanimous bench, Justice Eric Leach said it was “the most appalling and undignified death”.

Wednesday’s ruling, described by many as a victory, overturned the decision of the lower court which had dismissed the case last year. 

The tragedy, which happened in 2014, sparked outrage as citizens bemoaned the lack of proper toilet facilities in many schools in the country.

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His parents, James and Rosina in court_Photo: Bizcommunity

According to the court, the five-year-old went to the toilet but the seat which couldn’t hold his body weight collapsed.

He subsequently fell in and drowned in human waste. He was found “lying in the filth in the pit with hand outstretched as if seeking help,” court documents read.

Komape, at the time of his death, was a pupil of the Mahlodumela Primary School in the northern Limpopo province. His parents sued the minister of basic education after his death.

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Colleagues of Michael pay their respect_Photo: Capricon Fm

In addition to Wednesday’s ruling, the appeal court rejected the family’s demand for 3m rand ($208,000), ruling instead that Komape’s parents should receive 350,000 rands ($24,000) each and his three siblings 100,000 rands ($7,000) each, BBC reports.

Records show that an estimated 4,500 schools out of a total of 25,000 in South Africa have pit latrine toilets.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated last year that it would take measures to stop the use of pit latrines in schools. This followed an incident where a five-year-old boy drowned after falling into a latrine.

SCA Komape Judgment by Mail and Guardian on Scribd

Michael’s incident was not the last, however, last year a five-year-old boy reportedly drowned after falling into a latrine. That incident sparked outrage with President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that South Africa would eradicate pit latrines in state schools within two years.

“This is an initiative that will save lives and restore the dignity of tens of thousands of our nation’s children,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 19, 2019


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