Friday 19 April

5 YEARS LATER, GAUTENG SCHOOL STILL UNSAFE FOLLOWING THE ELECTROCUTION AND DEATH OF A LEARNER

High Court to hear a case about unsafe school infrastructure 7 February 2022

3 February 2022, Johannesburg — Over five years since a matric learner tragically died at Geluksdal Secondary School in Gauteng after being electrocuted because electrical equipment was repeatedly stolen but not replaced by the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), the infrastructure at the school remains a serious risk to learners’ rights and lives.

On 7 February 2022, the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Local Division, Johannesburg) will hear a Mandamus application, in which SECTION27 has been admitted as amicus curiae, about the unsafe infrastructure at the school.

Since the learner tragically died in January 2017, no action has been taken to resolve the unsafe electrical wiring and other infrastructure problems at Geluksdal, like the lack of adequate perimeter fencing.

Between 2010 and 2017, Geluskdal suffered theft and vandalism of electrical safety equipment like circuit breakers, cables, distribution boxes and earth leakage at least three times. Despite being informed of the theft and vandalism, the district office and GDE did nothing. Because of their failure to replace this life-saving and statutorily required equipment, a learner died at school when they touched the metal doorframe of a mobile classroom in a thunderstorm. But five years since this tragic death, as far as we are aware, the GDE has taken no action to resolve the unsafe school infrastructure and learners continue to be at risk of losing their lives while at school.  

The bereaved family, represented by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Inc (CDH) in the upcoming Mandamus application, hopes the court will intervene to ensure that the school electrical equipment is repaired and properly secured so that a tragedy like this never happens again. We were admitted as amicus curiae in October 2021. But since that time, the GDE and other education authorities have failed entirely to engage on steps taken to resolve the safety issues at the school. It can thus only be assumed that no steps have been taken to resolve these issues.

SECTION27’s submissions offer context to the legacies of unsafe school infrastructure, and the lack of security and perimeter fencing at many Gauteng schools. Had the school been properly secured, as was required by the November 2020 deadline for the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, the recurring theft of the electrical equipment would have been less likely and the learner may not have died in the tragic way that she did. In addition, we seek to strengthen the law holding education officials accountable for failing to ensure the school environment is safe. In its submissions, SECTION27 highlights the following:

  • Systemic challenges with unsafe school infrastructure;
  • Government’s historical and current non-compliance with statutory, constitutional and common law obligations to ensure safety at schools, focusing on the need to adequately secure schools to prevent vandalism and theft of infrastructure;
  • The role of public officials, including government officials and educators, in keeping learners safe in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) while learners are at school, and the need for accountability for failures in this regard;
  • The need for the court to issue a ‘Mandamus’ that requires the GDE to take immediate action to fix the problems at this school and maintain judicial oversight to make sure a tragedy like this is never repeated.

Unsafe school infrastructure has been the cause of too many injuries and deaths of learners while at school. The continued inaction of education departments to resolve dangerous school infrastructure is disgraceful, and public officials must be held responsible for their failure to ensure that the school environment is safe and conducive for learning.

The Mandamus application will be heard virtually before Judge Senyatsi on the unopposed roll of the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division). The media is invited to contact Judge Senyatsi’s secretary for access to the proceedings via email: JBlake@judiciary.org.za

Our papers can be accessed here.

[ENDS]

For media queries, contact Julia Chaskalson (chaskalson@section27.org.za or 0834402674).

Note for editors: SECTION27 does not represent the bereaved family and is not at liberty to give out their particulars, but we can comment on systemic issues of unsafe school infrastructure in South African schools.


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