Government to defend lawsuit from family of toilet-drowning victim

5-year-old Lumka Mketwa drowned in a pit toilet
5-year-old Lumka Mketwa drowned in a pit toilet

The Eastern Cape education department will defend a lawsuit brought against it by the parents of five-year-old Lumka Mketwa, who drowned in a pit latrine at Luna Junior Secondary School in Mbizana last year.

Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade caused a storm by allegedly remarking at an education committee meeting last Friday that parents kill their children and dump their bodies at government facilities to claim compensation.

DA MP Yusuf Cassim said Gade made the remarks in the Bhisho legislature when indicating that his department would oppose the Mketwa family’s claim.

“What shocked the DA was Gade’s comment that people kill their children and then dump them in government facilities, and then want to claim compensation,” Cassim said.

“If the MEC suspects foul play he should provide evidence. Making such irresponsible remarks without providing any evidence only serves to denigrate the dignity of the Mketwa family.”

Cassim wrote to Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, asking him to investigate Gade’s “callous, insensitive and irresponsible remarks”.

Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said they could not comment because there was no audio recording to back up Cassim’s allegations.

“Besides, the MEC is denying making those allegations. There is nothing we can say without a recording. Whoever is alleging this must provide proof that the MEC indeed said those words,” Sicwetsha said.

Cassim said he asked the legislature about a recording, but was told that the meeting was not recorded.

Legislature spokesperson Andile Duka said he could not comment until he had gathered and verified all the facts.

In March, former education MEC Mlungisi Mvoko said that in the Eastern Cape alone there were still 1 598 schools, with 458 147 pupils, using pit latrines

Little Lumka drowned in March last year in a pit latrine in her school. Her parents and villagers spent several hours searching for her, only to discover her body at the bottom of the pit latrine the next day.

Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima declined to comment on a matter before court, but said there had been several engagements with the family before they started suing the department. These included a home visit by former education MEC Mandla Makupula, as well as contributions and further assistance towards the funeral.

Mtima said Gade had been quoted out of context.

In an interview with City Press last year, Alfred Nzo East district education director Mbulelo Mpupu said the partially disabled Lumka should have been supervised when she went to the toilet.

On the Monday she drowned there was a lot of activity at the school, where school governing body elections were being conducted and both the principal and his deputy were not there.

“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,” Mpupu said.

“They started checking the class and saw her bag and the search began until late in the night... 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, which 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.”

TALK TO US

In the absence of an audio recording, what legal action can be taken against Fundile Gade for his alleged disparaging comments?

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