‘We gave the school our child for education purposes, and then something happens, so they must be accountable’.
When Yves Kadilo said farewell to his younger brother, Enock Mpianzi, on Wednesday morning outside Parktown Boys’ High School, he did not know that would be the last time he saw him alive.
“He was very excited about the trip that would end his life,” Kadilo told City Press at the family home in the suburb of Malvern in Johannesburg yesterday.
The family and other relatives had gathered to mourn the passing of the 13-year-old.
“My mother gave him the last hug.”
Then the buses left for the trip to Brits in North West where Mpianzi and other Grade 8 pupils were to attend an orientation camp organised by the school for new pupils.
And now, Kadilo said, he had to remain strong for his other younger brother.
“The two were very close. And now I have to act as if I am not hurting so that I can be strong for him.”
Mpianzi’s father Guy Intamba told City Press: “We are left with many questions but without the precious soul in this family.
“I still do not know what really happened to my son. I was there on Thursday and on Friday. Today is Saturday and yet I still do not know what happened.”
He vowed that he would go “all the way” to get justice for his last-born son.
“If I have to go to court, I will do that. We did not plan to lose a son and I will do whatever it takes to get answers,” he said.
Mpianzi was using his mother Anto Mpianzi’s surname while Kadilo used that of a relative to honour the family’s culture as practised in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An emotional Sebastian Kodiemoka said the school should take responsibility for what happened to his nephew.
“We gave the school our child for education purposes, and then something happens, so they must be accountable.
“They [the school] called us to tell us that our child went missing in their care. Who else should we ask our child from?” Kodiemoka asked.
He said the family was struggling to understand “why they [the pupils] didn’t swim in the swimming pool in the school compound. We don’t know what the initiation was about that needed a river.”
When the family was informed that Mpianzi was missing, Kodiemoka tagged along and, on arrival at the Nyati Bush and Riverbreak, he had joined the search party hoping to find his nephew.
“After we searched around we proposed that we go to the bush where the children had slept the previous night. While we were with the MEC for education [Panyaza Lesufi], he approached me and told me that they had seen something using the camera in the river but they were not sure if it was a human body or something else.
“After a few minutes they confirmed that it was a body of a boy. They pulled him out and we had to confirm it was our boy.”
Kodiemoka said he was the first family member to identify the body.
“I was allowed to open the plastic to check if it was the right body. The mother insisted that she had to see. We refused, but she finally convinced us she had to see. This was on Friday.
“The body was fresh; he had blood on the face, nose, there was blood in the eyes also but we could not look any further. He was very pale.”
Police confirmed that they had launched an inquest into the boy’s death and that preliminary evidence suggested that the boys who went on the river were not wearing life jackets.
Lesufi said his department would conduct its own investigation into the death of Mpianzi.
Parktown Boys’ spokesperson, Kim van Es, said the school was not allowed to respond to media queries.
She said: “I confirm that we are offering support to the family. As previously stated in our media release the alumni and the school have committed to assisting the family wherever possible.”
Mpianzi’s tragic death has sparked calls for schools to do away with initiation practices in which pupils are taken on camps to learn about schools’ cultures.
Yesterday labour federation Cosatu called on the department of education to intervene and prevent schools from sending pupils to camps.
“That is not what is supposed to happen. They are not supposed to be introducing things that have nothing to do with learning.
“The priority should be ensuring a safe and healthy environment for pupils and giving assurance to parents that, when their child goes to school, the child will come back home alive. There are relevant institutions that are supposed to regulate what is acceptable and what is not within the school environment and why these things are being allowed to happen. The reality is that the worst thing we could do is pretend that this is something new when it is not.”
Mpianzi’s body was recovered from the Crocodile River on Friday morning after a makeshift raft he and other boys were on overturned on Wednesday.
Kodiemoka said the family was informed that the trip was for educational purposes, “which turned out not to be so”.
“It is questionable because this particular trip was organised earlier when these kids did not know one another and the teachers did not know the pupils.
“Our boy only knew the boy he was seated next to on the bus to North West, who later raised the alarm when he could not see his friend in the compound.
“The school is supposed to be a safe place where precautions are taken to ensure our children are safe. If this is not done, then someone must explain why it happened the way it did.”
North West police spokesperson Colonel Adele Myburgh told City Press yesterday that the pupils were not wearing life jackets even though they were taking part in water-related activities.
“According to my information, they were definitely not wearing life jackets. Before they commenced in the river, the convener asked the kids who could and who could not swim. Those who said they could not didn’t take part in the water activity. Only those who said they could swim, participated and those who couldn’t remained on the river bank,” she said.
Police, Myburgh said, would investigate why the school delayed reporting that Mpianzi was missing.
“Those reasons will form part of the investigation and the circumstances surrounding Mpianzi’s death.”
Myburgh said Mpianzi was reported missing on Thursday and police immediately activated a search team “consisting of police divers and K9 (dog unit) officers, who searched until it became dark”.
She said police divers searched throughout the night and discovered Mpianzi’s body on Friday morning about 3km from where he was last seen on Wednesday.
At a media briefing on Friday, Lesufi was clearly concerned about the timelines between when Mpianzi went missing, was noticed as such, and when he was reported missing and finally found.
“I don’t doubt that the school wanted to be sure that all pupils were present,” he said.
“What is concerning are the timelines and, in the absence of discussions, it is going to be very difficult to know whether those timelines are justified or not. The case was opened only yesterday [Thursday] at 3pm. The child drowned on Wednesday, meaning the boy was missing for almost 48 hours.”
Urging individuals to refrain from placing blame without facts, Lesufi said an independent report would be compiled “to tell us who is liable”.
“I know those reports take longer but because we need to account, I will speak to the head of department. Within the next three months the report must be done. It will be shared with the affected parties,” he said.
“For me, I am reluctant to point fingers at people or to assassinate the character of an individual or of the school. What we need to do is to wait for the report to be concluded.”