Polokwane – The Department of Basic Education was warned about "sinking toilets" at Mahlodumela Primary School as early as 2004 - ten years before five-year-old Michael Komape fell into a pit toilet and drowned.
This emerged in testimony given during the second week of the damages action Komape's family has instituted in the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane.
Construction engineer David Still told the court on Monday that the school's principal had sent a letter to the department's local circuit office about the state of affairs at the school, in which intervention was demanded.
According to Still, a series of letters were sent to the department - in 2004 and 2008 and 2009.
Still read the letter into the record.
Dilapidated pit toilet
"The learners' toilets are sinking, so the school [is] going to buy temporary steel for learners," it read.
Still had conducted investigations into the school pit toilet where Michael had died, after receiving photographs of the pit from human rights organisation, Section27.
The organisation has instituted the action on behalf of the Komape family.
Michael died in January 2014 after he fell into a dilapidated pit toilet in Chebeng village, near Polokwane.
Michael had just started Grade R when he fell into the toilet.
Still told the court that he had done research on the state of pit toilets in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. He concluded the research in 2016.
According to the report, pupils and school principals in more than 120 schools were afraid to use pit toilets.
“Fifty-six per cent of principals believe that the toilets are not safe,” Still said in his report.
He pointed out to the court that it was not surprising that learners could easily remove some of the toilet seats because they were either too old or rusty.
Without covers, children could easily fall into the pit toilets, he added.
Still had been tasked with compiling a report on behalf of Section 27, which lodged the action on the family's behalf.
The family is demanding a loss of income and damage from Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. They claim the department failed to ensure that ageing toilets were maintained or that adequate facilities were put in place.
Still suggested that the department should consider using VIP toilets and materials which could prevent children from drowning.
At the time of his death, Michael was at the school for less than 30 days.
His lifeless body was found in a pool of faeces, with his hand sticking out, the court previously heard.
Since then, the family has struggled to come to terms with his horrific death.
They have expressed their need for psychological intervention.
Samson Phaswane, who represents both respondents – the national and provincial education departments - argued that Still's evidence was misleading because he had only conducted investigations and made his findings after viewing pictures supplied to him by Section 27.
Still's recommendation was that the government establish a dedicated unit which would inspect the state of school infrastructure to avert further damage.