Cape Town – A 5-year-old girl has died after falling into a pit toilet at a primary school in the Eastern Cape, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga confirmed on Thursday.
Little Lumka Mketwa died at the Luna Primary School in Bizana on Tuesday, although it was not yet clear what the exact cause of her death was.
She is understood to have been in Grade R.
READ: Children continue to attend schools without safe sanitation, court hears
"The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable, and incredibly disturbing," said Motshekga in a statement.
"I cannot begin to know the trauma the parents are experiencing, it is truly a tragic incident and my sympathies are with them."
Mzamba police were investigating the circumstances surrounding her death.
Counselling was also being offered to staff and pupils at the school.
The incident was similar to one at a school outside Polokwane, where 5-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet in 2014.
R3.5bn to be cut from budget
His family went to court to claim damages from the State.
The national education department said on Thursday that it was doing "everything in its capacity" to address backlogs timeously by prioritising unsafe structures and those without decent sanitation, electricity and water.
It said it had made significant strides in this regard together with provincial education departments, but that budget cuts posed a threat to the provision of much needed infrastructure.
"Words cannot express the pain I personally feel at the loss of a young life in this horrific way. To know that as a sector we have not been able to address these infrastructure issues fast enough, for a number of reasons, breaks my heart," said Motshekga.
According to the department, 5 225 maintenance projects are underway around the country. The Eastern Cape has already exhausted its maintenance budget.
The department said that despite progress made with the accelerated school infrastructure delivery initiative, more than R3.5bn would be cut in the next three years from the initiative's budget.
The cuts were part of a government-wide reprioritisation of funds, the department explained.
A delegation from the National Council of Provinces based in Mbizana visited the school as well as the family of the pupils.
"Education department officials who accompanied the delegation during this visit committed to provide mobile toilets to Luna Primary School before the end of this month and also offered to assist the family will funeral arrangements. The NCOP will closely monitor the implementation of this commitment," spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said in a statement.
“The delegation requested a full report on the incident and also plans to ensure such an event never occurs again in the future.”
- Please note that the story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the girl, as provided by the South African Police Service. The national education department explained on Friday that it had used Viwe Jali as it was the clan name the girl used at school, while Lumka Mketwa was her official name on records.