- Enock’s family is officially suing the Gauteng Department of education for their son’s death.
- Anto Mpianzi recalls the day she had to identify her son’s body.
- Parktown Boys’ High School principal Malcolm Williams is back at the school after a short suspension.
This article previously appeared in the print edition of Move!.
It should have been the start of a bright new chapter – their youngest child was off to a prestigious school where he’d build the foundation for a promising future. But for Enock Mpianzi, it was over before it even began.
The tragic circumstances around the death of the 13-year-old Parktown Boys’ High School learner have united South Africans in outrage. How could the school only realise he was missing the next day? The topic dominated the media – but for one family, the furore only added to their grief. A dark cloud hangs over the home in Malvern, Johannesburg, where the Mpianzi family live.
His mom, Anto (45), is taking the tragedy especially hard. Her last-born was her be-all and end-all, she says. She nicknamed him her “handbag” because they went everywhere together.
“He was my everything,” she says.
“I had such high hopes for him – I wanted to see him grow up and fulfil all his dreams. He wanted to be a lawyer. Enock was my best friend,” Anto adds.
“Now he’s gone.”
HEADS MUST ROLL
A week after the tragedy, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has suspended Parktown Boys’ High School principal Malcolm Williams and other education officials.
“All of us want the truth. We all want the same thing,” Panyaza said. H said the department would be thoroughly reviewing applications for camp from schools. “We must communicate to schools that no one is allowed to go to that camp.”
EXCITED AND READY FOR CAMP
Anto and her husband, Guy Intamba Ekila, moved to SA from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001, fleeing the turmoil of their homeland. They set about carving a living for themselves in Joburg – Anto by selling Congolese food, Guy by buying and reselling cars. They didn’t have much but it was enough to feed and clothe their sons, Yves (25), Shadrack (21), Mordecai (18) and young Enock.
When Enock had to go to high school, his parents applied for fee exemption at Parktown Boys’ High. The school year was to start with the Grade 8 boys going on an orientation camp to Nyati Bush and Riverbreak near Brits in the North West, and Enock was so excited he could barely sleep the night before.
The camp would include a hike and a river-rafting challenge. According to news reports, the children had to take their own life jackets but the Mpianzis couldn’t afford one for Enock. Apart from that, he was ready for the camp.
“I personally packed his bags and made sure he had everything he needed according to the list from the school,” Anto says, speaking via her French interpreter, her niece Debora Kodiemoka (21). The family managed to raise the R870 for the camp, but because they were late with the payment, they rushed to show the school secretary the proof of payment shortly before the bus left.
“Everything was set and he was good to go,” Anto says. As she went to hug him goodbye she realised he hadn’t put deodorant on so she took her can from her bag and sprayed him. At 10am on Wednesday 15 January the bus left the school grounds – the last time they would see their son alive.
The next day Guy received a call from the school’s secretary asking if his son had gone on camp.
“When I told her yes, he did, she said okay, I would get a call if there was a problem. Just before 4pm I got another call, this time from the principal. He told me they couldn’t find my son but they were searching for him.”
The worried family made their way to the school and found most offices locked. Anto phoned the headmaster, Malcolm Williams, who told them he had arranged transport to the campsite. He added Enock was last seen at lunch, before an 8km hike. When they arrived at the campsite after 8pm nothing seemed amiss, the family recalls.
“Everyone was calm while we were losing our minds. But death never crossed my mind – I thought Enock must have wandered off during the hike and lost his way. I was convinced we’d look for him and find him.”
The family were offered supper and a dormitory in which to spend the night and told to meet the school counsellor, campsite staff and police at 7.30am the next morning when the search would be resumed.
“We were up and ready before 7.30am,” Anto says. Police divers slid into the water while the family and other searchers walked the banks of the Crocodile River, running fast after recent rains, screaming Enock’s name.
“We kept hoping he would emerge from the bushes,” Anto says.
Hours later they returned to the campsite where the MEC was waiting. “He introduced himself and told us sniffer dogs were being organised. “He told us to stay put. After about an hour he came back and told us we needed to be strong – they had found something. We asked, ‘Something like what?’ and he said, ‘A child’s body’.”
A distraught Anto was eventually allowed to identify her child’s body.
“He was covered in a white plastic sheet and the body was on top of a raft. “His stomach was flat, his mouth was closed and he had a lot of blood on his face. I don’t know much about drowning but from what I’ve heard, a person who drowned has a bloated stomach. I also didn’t understand where the blood was coming from,” Anto says.
After the tragedy the school released a statement saying the headmaster, seven teachers, a “child development and protection consultant”, the head boy and deputy head boy were all at the camp.”
Late on Thursday morning, it became apparent that a boy had gone missing from the camp. The headmaster contacted the father to alert him to staff concerns,” the statement says.
“The police had already been called, the statement adds, and by 11am on Friday “the school was informed of the tragic news that his body had been found”.
The school, police and education department have all launched investigations and the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will represent the family, the SAHRC’s Gauteng head Buang Jones said. The lodge’s legal representative, Daniel Eloff said there was no roll call done before the boys went off to camp.