LAW | POLOKWANE 

Day 2: State attempts to discredit parents in Michael Komape trial

Advocate asks if death of five-year-old who drowned in toilet was any different from death by sickness or car accident

Photo of protesters at Michael Komape trial
Protests have been taking place outside the court in Polokwane. James Komape, father of Michael, is the person wearing a jacket. Photo: Ciaran Ryan
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Michael Komape died in a pit latrine at his school outside Polokwane in 2014. On Tuesday, day two of the trial against the state by the Komape family, the state attempted to discredit the earlier testimony of Michael’s parents, Rosina and James Komape.

Advocate Simon Phaswane for the state challenged Rosina’s testimony that the Department of Education had not been forthcoming with support to the family following Michael’s death. He promised to bring witnesses who would testify that financial and other assistance, including psychological counselling and contributions to funeral expenses, were offered to the family in the days after the tragedy.

Rosina Komape conceded that there had been assistance from the department for the funeral, but said that it was insufficient for the scale of the tragedy she had just suffered, and the number of people who came to her home to offer solace in the days leading up to the funeral. Local custom required that these mourners be fed, which was paid for by the family and from donations from the community. She seemed uncertain as to what donations and how much had come from the department, though she said the food paid for by the department had been consumed by the grave diggers. She said there perhaps 1,000 people had attended the funeral, which was a huge event for the village of Chebeng, outside Polokwane, where the Komapes live.

“Yesterday, you did not tell the court that you had received something from the department,” said Phaswane.

“I was not asked that question,” replied Rosina.

Phaswane then questioned why the family had not accepted the R450,000 offer by the state in full and final settlement. “I wanted to teach the department a lesson, that this must not happen again,” replied Rosina.

“What is a lesson?” asked Phaswane. “Money?”

On re-examination of Rosina Komape, counsel for the family Advocate Vincent Maleka described the offer of R450,000 in full and final settlement of all claims as “insulting”.

Phaswane also asked Rosina whether the nature of the accident suffered by her son Michael was any different from death by sickness or vehicle accident. Rosina replied that had the school authorities taken more care – as she did with her other children at home – then perhaps Michael would still be alive.

In the afternoon, Michael’s father James took the stand, explaining that he had no permanent employment. He relies on odd jobs. He described how he had received the fateful call from the school principal on 20 January 2014 that Michael was missing. He immediately went to the school accompanied by a colleague who took photos of the pit latrines. The school authorities asked James’s colleague to delete the photos, which he did. James then asked him to take more photos and hand the phone to him. These photos were presented in court on Monday.

Phaswane asked James whether he knew about the Department of Education’s donations to the family immediately after Michael’s death. James replied he had heard about the donations, but had not seen them.

The line of questioning came to an abrupt end when Judge Muller pointed out that the state had already conceded the merits of the family’s claim for funeral expenses. Now it was a question of working out the quantum of the various claims.

The family is seeking nearly R3 million in various claims for special and Constitutional damages, funeral costs, and loss of income for Rosina, who lost her job as a domestic worker soon after the accident. The family is also asking the court for an order compelling the state to implement a plan for the provision of basic facilities in schools across Limpopo province.

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