Toilets Lumka drowned in should have been demolished

2018-03-18 06:03

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Little Lumka Mketwa, who drowned in a school pit latrine this week, was an “angel with a big heart”.

Although she had a severe speech impediment and couldn’t talk very well, the five-year-old child loved to smile.

A teacher at Luna Junior Primary School described the little girl, buried at her home in Nyaka village 2km from the school, as “very beautiful”.

“She was an angel. She had a big heart. She loved to smile and was very beautiful. She did not talk too much because she had a speech impediment, but you could see she was trying,” the teacher said.

“She was very friendly and enjoyed playing with other kids. She did not give us any trouble. You could tell that it was her first time in school. She was enjoying it so much.

“We are all going to miss her a lot but her friends especially will miss her. All the teachers loved her because she loved smiling at everyone.”

Lumka is the second child in the country to drown in a school pit latrine.

Michael Komape, also five, drowned in a pit latrine in 2014. His parents are waiting for judgment in a lawsuit lodged against the basic education department at the Limpopo High Court.

Bizana’s education district director admitted in an interview with City Press on Friday that little Lumka should have been supervised when she went to the toilet.

Mbulelo Mpupu, district director for the Alfred Nzo east education district, said Lumka was suspected to be partially disabled because she was unable to speak properly and was supposed to have been accompanied by a teacher when she went to the toilet.

He said on Monday, the day the Grade R child drowned in the pit latrine, there was a lot of activity at the school where school governing body (SGB) elections were being conducted.

Both the principal and his deputy were not there because they were out conducting SGB elections at a neighbouring school.

“There are two Grade R practitioners. The one from Lumka’s class had to help in the SGB electoral process with other teachers at the school.

“I guess this was the time that gave space for the child to get out of class without being attended to,” Mpupu said.

“Normally the kids are accompanied whenever they visit the toilets. But this time around the child was on her own.”

Mpupu said Lumka had to have gone to the toilet after 11:00 on Monday [because that is when the teachers were busy].

“It was only after school – when the driver of her school transport could not see her among the group he usually fetches from school – that anyone realised she was missing.

“They started checking the class and saw her bag and the search began until late in the night. They reported the matter to the Mzamba police station but the search found nothing. On Tuesday morning a pupil spotted what looked like a jersey next to the toilet,” Mpupu said.

“Some community members started checking inside the toilet hole. That is where they made the discovery. Using a wire they picked up her hand and it was confirmed that it was her when they pulled the whole body out from inside the toilet hole. That’s how the girl was discovered. She had already passed on.”

"Hollow, disrespectful and insensitive"

When City Press visited the school on Friday, small children could be seen playing around the school yard. Lumka’s classmates were not there, having been sent for counselling earlier in the week.

The neat, face-brick school has new safer-looking pit toilets next to the old ones where Lumka drowned. The old ones were no longer supposed to be in use.

“So, obviously she did not go to a toilet that was suitable for her use. But even the toilet she used is fair for adults, it’s not in good condition but it’s fair,” Mpupu said.

This week non-governmental organisation and activist group Equal Education was in the Bhisho High Court to force Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to implement the minimum norms and standards on infrastructure in schools. With the NGO protesting outside the court this week was Michael Komape’s father James.

Now Equal Education wants Motshekga, Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula and their respective heads of department held accountable for Lumka’s death.

“The sympathy expressed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is hollow, disrespectful and insensitive. Equal Education places the blame for this tragedy on Minister Motshekga, on basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli, on Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula and on Eastern Cape education department head Themba Kojana,” the organisation’s general secretary Tshepo Motsepe said on Friday.

“It is a matter of horrific coincidence that Equal Education was in the Bhisho High Court this week, asking Acting Judge Nomawabo Msizi to compel Minister Motshekga to fix unconstitutional loopholes and gaps in the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

“If the court agrees with us, it will mean the country’s law on school infrastructure will be tightened and there will not be any excuse for any failure by the nine provinces to comply with the deadlines which the law sets for providing essential infrastructure at schools.”

Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said they were shocked by Lumka’s death.

“The MEC has donated R20 000 towards the funeral of the child. But what shocked us is that this is a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets. Unfortunately, the pupil numbers determine the usage of the toilets and other facilities,” he said.

“But under the SA Schools Act children need to be supervised when they visit the toilet or when they are on a break. In this regard our educators failed us hence we have this tragedy. For the fact that there was no quick realisation that the child was missing is also a worry that the teachers failed. We also don’t understand why small children were made to use old toilets at the school.”

Mtima admitted the old toilets where Lumka drowned should have been demolished “long ago”.

According to the latest National Education Infrastructure Management System report, dated January 2018, there are 37 Eastern Cape schools with no toilets at all, 1 945 with plain pit latrines, and 2 585 with ventilated pit latrines.

The same report shows there are 4 358 schools in South Africa with only plain pit latrines.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “Once more the minister regrets the tragic loss of such a precious life in such horrendous circumstances. It has always been the view and the position of the minister that safe and decent facilities which include sanitation do not only provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning, but are fundamental to the dignity and human rights of both pupils and teachers.

“It is, however, disingenuous to assert that the minister must take the blame when the actual task of school infrastructure delivery is, very clearly, a function of a provincial government.

“In fact the minister has insisted, on many occasions, that provinces must prioritise and sufficiently budget for maintenance of schools.

“Upon seeing that the delivery of school infrastructure was unsatisfactory the minister took further steps to intervene.”

Mhlanga said the national department approached Treasury to “make additional funds available through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative and Education Infrastructure Grants” to increase the money available to the Eastern Cape education department.

But this, Mhlanga said, had led to the Eastern Cape government “withdrawing the equitable share completely and relying on these two solely for school infrastructure projects” which has delayed the backlog and reversed the progress.

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