The court ordered the Department of Basic Education to pay thousands of rands to family members of a five-year-old boy who drowned in a pit toilet at the school in 2014.
The Section27 organization says it hopes the damages to be paid to Michael Komape’s family from Limpopo under an appeals court decision will bring at least some dignity and healing to his family.
The Appeals Court granted the family R1.4 million in damages this week, as well as the cost of future medical expenses (R6 000) for each member of the family. “This is a victory for the Komape family because damages for emotional shock and suffering were dismissed by the Polokwane High Court last year,” the organization said.
Michael died in January 2014 after drowning in a pit toilet at a school in Limpopo. The court heard earlier that the boy’s body was only removed from the pit after about four hours.
His mother, Rosina, who rushed her to school after hearing her child was missing, saw the boy in the pit toilet, with one arm stretched up from the human waste.
At the same time, his father, Maloti, tried to take photos as evidence of what happened to his child, but his phone was taken away and the photos erased.
A civil claim was lodged with the Education Department the following year at the Polokwane High Court and the process took longer than five years.
“It was a very emotional and difficult time for the Komape family,” the organization said.
Judge Eric Leach said in the ruling that something was done to the battered toilet structures, fell on deaf ears for years. At that time it would only cost about R500 per toilet to build a sturdy structure.
Leach said the family’s emotional distress was also exacerbated by the harsh attitude of the education authorities after the incident. Little Michael’s father was forbidden to remove his body from the pit toilet and was told that “at least it is already too late”. Police also banned his brother Lucas from looking after his body.
The school did not inquire about how the family was doing and the family considered the settlement amount offered by the department years after the incident an insult.
The judge said it was a difficult task to determine an amount of damages, “because no monetary compensation can compensate for their loss”.
Michael’s parents and oldest brother were finally granted damages of R350 000 each, while his three younger siblings received damages of R100 000 each.
Section27 says he hopes the ruling will provide some comfort for the family and restore their dignity after the way Michael died and the way the education authorities treated the family after his death.