Basic education hauled to court over Geluksdal learner’s death

Basic education hauled to court over Geluksdal learner’s death

The High Court in Johannesburg has admitted rights group, Section27, as an _amicus curiae_ (friend of the court) in the case of a Geluksdal learner who died due to unsafe electrical wiring at her school.

The rights group says it applied to be part of the case following several complaints and queries related to death and injury in the school environment.

The organisation was behind the push for justice in the Michael Komape case, a five-year-old who drowned in excrement after falling into the pit toilet at his school in Limpopo’s Chebeng Village.

“To ensure that each and every learner is safe, it is essential to ensure that school infrastructure meets the minimum benchmarks for school safety, and that public officials in every level of the basic education system are held accountable for their obligations to keep children safe.”

The learner, whose name has been withheld from the media for now, lost her life in 2017. Geluksdal Secondary School was, at the time, allegedly plagued by vandalism and theft due to a lack of adequate security on the school premises.

“As a result, circuit breakers and earth leakage equipment were repeatedly stolen from the school. This, along with poor maintenance and loose wiring, made school buildings unsafe. Despite being informed of the electrical problems at the school by the school principal, the circuit, district and provincial education authorities did nothing. During a heavy thunderstorm a matric learner at the school was running barefoot and because of the wiring problems, was electrocuted when they touched the metal doorframe of a mobile classroom. They died on the scene,” says Section27 in a statement.

The case was first filed before court in January this year.

Section27 says the government’s failure to adhere to the provisions of the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure to ensure safe school infrastructure is unlawful and unacceptable.

The National Department of Basic Education, Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi and Geluksdal Secondary School Principal and the school’s governing body are among the respondents in the matter.

The family’s claims include a claim for constitutional damages as well as claims based in the common law of delict, which is in line with section 39(2) of the Constitution.

Local Voices tried getting the education department’s comment on the matter, but spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga’s phone rang unanswered at the time of publishing.

‘Why does govt hate the poor so much?’

‘Why does govt hate the poor so much?’

Civil society organisations are calling for an end to budget cuts ahead of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Medium-Term Budget to be delivered on Wednesday.

The organisations under the movement, Cry of the Xcluded,  says COVID-19 and the economic and social lockdown has laid bare the failures of the government’s pro-business approach. 

The movement includes the Assembly of the Unemployed, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the Associations of Mineworkers and Construction (Amcu).

“We have seen over 2.3 million jobs lost, many of us forced into precarious work, our families went to bed hungry and inequality has worsened. Now, we hear that while Tito Mboweni’s stomach is full, he wants to cut more jobs in the public sector as well as cut spending on the essential services and social grants many of us need to survive. But, we cannot afford any further budget cuts! The rich and powerful will continue to laugh as tax cuts make them richer and more powerful, while our suffering worsens and we go to bed hungry, in cold shacks with no sanitation or electricity. Why does government hate the unemployed and the poor so much?”

The civil rights activists believe that government should now be spending more on building houses for the poor and health facilities while also hiring more medical staff.

They want the issue of water and sanitation at rural schools also addressed. In 2019, around 4 500 South African schools still had pit latrines, while in 2018, 23 schools in the Eastern Cape were still without sanitation facilities at all.

The pit toilets claimed the life of Limpopo’s Chebeng Village learner Michael Komape (5) in 2014. Komape drowned in excrement after falling into it at school. He became the face of an expose of the poor state of South Africa’s school infrastructure. Several other children have met a similar fate in various parts of the country. In August 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to rid the country’s schools of pit latrines within two years.

“No more Michael Komapes! How do you do that without spending money? We need support for jobless peoples, children, the elderly, single parents, and those living with disabilities. How do you do that without spending money? We need to shift from mining, and the toxic old mines that destroy our land and make us sick must be rehabilitated. We reject any budget cuts proposed by the government! This is not the way to address the debt and unemployment crisis, and deepening inequality.”

 The Cry of the Xcluded is urging government to increase the wealthy’s tax rates, close tax and wage evasion loopholes, utilizing surpluses managed by the Public Investment Corporation as well as prescribed assets, offer real and tangible funding sources for a reinvigorated public sector.

The movement plans to hold a series of protests across all South Africa’s nine provinces, demanding an end to budget cuts. On Wednesday, the activists will also protest outside Parliament.

In October, the Budget Justice Coalition (BJC) tabled an alternative human rights budget, Imali Yesizwe (Our Nation’s Money). The BJC expressed increased concern about government’s “continued steps to cut back on the social spending that is needed to fulfil socio-economic rights, which are enshrined by the South African constitution and international law.”