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Equal Education enters court battle over unsafe schools

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Death of five-year-old in school latrine raises constitutional issues, says judge

Photo of a classroom
Students in a Limpopo school hold umbrellas above their heads because the roof is leaking. Photo courtesy of SECTION27
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Judge Mokgohloa of the High Court of Limpopo has admitted the social movement Equal Education (EE) as amicus curiae in the case of Komape v. Minister of Basic Education and Others.

The Komape family represented by SECTION27 is suing the Department of Basic Education (DBE) after their five-year-old son, Michael Komape, died when he fell into a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Lower Primary School in Limpopo on 20 January 2014.

The case could set an important precedent of accountability for unsafe school conditions as the judge, when admitting EE to the case, said the matter raised “a Constitutional issue”.

EE is a non-profit and public benefit organisation dedicated to improving the country’s schools. Amicus curiae is Latin and means “friend of the court”. It is a third party that wishes to act as an advisor to the court and must bring new evidence and perspective to the case.

In addition to monetary compensation, the Komape family is seeking to create common law that would hold the education department responsible for the upkeep of school infrastructure.

EE would like to present evidence that the DBE has continuously failed to uphold its public duties to act as the party responsible for the children at school, a legal concept known as loco parentis. This means that while children are at school, they are in the care of the state, and the well-being of school children is the responsibility of the state.

The Komape family agreed to EE’s involvement, but the education department had insisted that it was not a Constitutional matter, as the tragedy experienced by the Komape family was an isolated incident, and not foreseeable.

But EE claims to have continually engaged with the department about poor school infrastructure, meaning it was fully aware of the situation at Komape’s school, and could have prevented his death.

The case could create a precedent where a failure to perform public duties can translate to a private claim for damages.

The Tebeila Institute of Leadership, Education, Governance and Training (TILEGT) has also been accepted as amicus curiae. TILEGT is a rural, Limpopo-based organisation that works to make learners aware of their opportunities after matric. They also seek to hold private institutions, government and individuals accountable for not upholding the Constitution in regards to education in Limpopo.

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TOPICS:  Education

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