DBE disputes insensitivity claims over Komape case

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has disputed claims of insensitivity surrounding the late Michael Komape tragedy and the recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment.  

This follows commentary in the public arena which insinuates that the department was insensitive towards the Komape family following the loss of their child, four-year-old Michael, who fell into a pit latrine at school and died.  

The SCA handed down a judgment on 18 December 2019, in which it ordered the department to pay the family R1.4 million in damages.

The Limpopo Department of Education will soon pay the settlement amount to the family. 

According to the National Department, the Head of the Limpopo Department of Education, Beauty Mutheiwana, confirmed on Tuesday that the provincial department will fulfil its obligations in this regard in a few days.

“The suggestions perpetuated in the media that the department did not support the family are also not supported by facts. The department, at provincial and national level, conceded liability that Michael Komape (4) died at Mahlodumela Lower Primary School on 20 January 2014.  

“Department officials visited the family to provide support, during which words of regret and sympathy were conveyed to the family. Support was offered immediately after the passing away of the child; also towards the funeral, and years after the regrettable incident,” said DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga. 

According to Mhlanga, the provincial government, led by the Limpopo Office of the Premier, covered actual funeral costs and logistics.  

The Limpopo Department of Social Development provided trauma counselling to the whole family.  

“Over and above material assistance to the family, the Limpopo Department of Education paid an amount, which covered the funeral cost claim as well as the alleged loss of income for Mrs Komape, as ordered in an interim High Court judgment,” said Mhlanga.

The Limpopo Department of Education requested a service provider, contracted to the National School Nutrition Programme, to redirect food supplies to the family, as part of the resources needed for the funeral arrangements.  

The department has expressed its regret and sympathy towards the Komape family, and remains sympathetic to the family -- and all of this has been done to ensure that the family gets the required support at all times.

Approaching the courts 

The department expressed that it went to court not to avoid damages but rather to interpret the legal question regarding damages.  

“Now that the court has given a ruling on the amount, we will pay. We never refused to pay the family. It was never about money but the need for a competent authority to provide guidance of the appropriate quantum to be paid.

“On several occasions, we attempted to settle the matter out of court but without success. Now that the SCA has given a directive, we will abide by it,” said Mutheiwana.

The department said it defended the matter in court simply to ensure that the facts in this case were not used to develop common law, to create a new legal precedent regarding a possible award for damages the family was entitled to under common law.

“We went to court to defend a principle and the courts agreed with us in this particular instance,” said Mutheiwana.

The department has since made great strides to replace pit latrines with appropriate sanitation facilities in schools.  

The Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative has been set up to accelerate the provision of such infrastructure in schools.  The private sector has also come on board to assist the department to improve sanitation provision in schools around the country. – SAnews.gov.za