- Two Eastern Cape pupils burnt to death and seven others were injured after their clothes caught fire.
- They were trying to burn a snake slithering on the school grounds.
- The education department is probing allegations the pupils were allegedly instructed by a teacher to set the snake alight.
Two Eastern Cape pupils burnt to death and seven others were injured after their clothes caught fire when they attempted to burn a snake found on the school grounds.
The Eastern Cape education department confirmed the bizarre incident occurred at the Nzulula Primary School in Libode on Tuesday.
Two pupils died at St Barnabas and Nelson Mandela Academic Hospitals due to the burns they suffered, education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said.
Mtima said the incident happened during break time.
News24 understands that a furious Eastern Cape Education MEC, Fundile Gade, immediately ordered a thorough investigation into the incident, following conflicting reports.
An official departmental report alleged that educators joined in when they saw the pupils trying to kill the snake.
However, an insider at the education department, said Gade had been made aware of a different version of events, which claimed that a teacher instructed leaners to burn the snake by using 25 litres of sanitiser.
It is understood that, when the pupils tried to burn the snake after dousing it with sanitiser, their clothes caught alight.
The insider said the MEC was furious because in the official statement sent to the district office by the school, the version about the sanitiser and the allegation that a teacher instructed the learners to start the fire, was omitted.
In an official statement, Mtima said: "Educators became aware of the snake when they saw learners stoning it, and they quickly tried to intervene by joining the learners in killing the snake.
"The seven learners were, unfortunately, caught by the flames of the fire. One of the seven learners is in a critical condition and being treated at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, while four are being treated at St Barnabas Hospital in Libode."
The department has sent psychologists to the school to provide counselling to the teachers and learners.
Mtima said a team from the department will visit the school and the affected families on Thursday, including the two bereaved families, to pay their respects.
Gade sent his condolences to the families, friends, school and the community at large, following the death of the learners.
Eastern Cape police could not immediately be reached for comment. Their response will be added once received.