16 November 2017, Polokwane – 19 November marks World Toilet Day. It is an indictment on the National Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) that this week also marks the start of the trial on Michael Komape’s death. After almost four long years, James and Rosina Komape finally took to the Limpopo High Court witness stand this week and completed their powerful, tragic and dignified testimony into the horrific death of their son, Michael (5).

Yesterday the trial into the death of Grade R learner Michael, who died a gruesome death when his school pit toilet collapsed and he fell in, went into its third day.  So far, the court has heard the testimony of both parents.

The Polokwane High Court is hearing a claim for damages instituted by Michael’s family against the DBE and the LDoE. SECTION27 is acting as the family’s legal representative.

On Monday and Tuesday, Rosina Komape spoke of how she received a call from the school telling her Michael was missing (two hours after he had first gone missing), how she grabbed her newborn Johanna and ran to Mahlodumela Primary School where she was left to search on her own for Michael, only to be taken much later to the collapsed pit toilet where she saw the little hand of her son reaching out of from the bottom of the pit. She spoke of how this image continues to haunt her, the pain of losing her child, the callousness with which officials treated her, the pain of not receiving an apology from the national and provincial Departments of Education or the school and of the trauma of Michael’s siblings.

James spoke on Tuesday and Wednesday of the horror and pain of seeing his child in the pit, the moment they hauled Michael’s lifeless body from the pit, the image of them covering him in a throwaway carpet which lay nearby and the pain of knowing that he will never see Michael again. He spoke of how the principal, the School Governing Body, the teachers and the police, forced his friend to delete the images from his phone which he had taken of the scene. He spoke of his constant missing of Michael and how he recalls his son never complaining when his father did not have money to send with him to school.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lydia Komape took the witness stand and cut a determined and unrelenting image of an elder sister fighting for her deceased younger sibling. She remained resolute and grew even more fierce in her contempt for the callous way the state had treated her brother’s death and family’s grief. At a point, as she tried to illustrate the extent to which the trauma of Michael’s death was unbearable, she emphatically stated
“we gave the department of education Michael alive and they returned him as a corpse.”

The characterization of the family seeking monetary gain is false. This case is about the suffering, trauma and grief of a family who have mourned and continue to mourn the lost life of their five-year-old son who died under the most gruesome circumstances.  The family have made the difficult decision to pursue the case and relive their trauma so that Michael’s death is not in vain.  They want to prevent a similar tragedy from happening to another child who belongs to another family in a country where an undignified death is treated as normal.  We are disappointed that the State’s counsel described Lydia Komape’s description of the family’s reaction to Michael’s death as “unbelievable”. The counsel later accused Lydia Komape of lying for not acknowledging the paltry donations alleged to have been made by the LDoE soon after Michael’s death.

SECTION27 will continue to pursue #Justice4Michael. This week, we will make public a selection of postcards from mainly primary school learners in Gauteng and the Western Cape expressing the feelings about the death of Michael. They are addressed to the Limpopo MEC of Education, Ishmael Kgetjepe. The postcards express the reasons why the learners “Stand with Michael”. These postcards will be hand delivered to the MEC’s office.

We wish to thank all South Africans who have responded with overwhelming compassion, we are making sure that we convey your messages of support to the Komape family.

The trial is set to continue until 28 November 2017. We are live tweeting the hearings via the SECTION27 Twitter account. This afternoon Lucas Komape takes the stand.

 

This video has been released by SECTION27 in tribute to Michael:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=4i7vBU_Wcng&a=&app=desktop

 

For further information, please contact:

Nomatter Ndebele

ndebele@section27.org.za
072 9192752

Zukiswa Pikoli
pikoli@section27.org.za
071 195 3177