Court orders Gauteng education department to fix school where pupil was electrocuted

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The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg ordered the Gauteng education department to address issues at a school where a pupil was electrocuted and died.
The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg ordered the Gauteng education department to address issues at a school where a pupil was electrocuted and died.
PHOTO: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp/Archive
  • The Gauteng education department has been given 15 days to say what will be done to fix infrastructure at a school where a teenager was electrocuted.
  • Maubrey Mahudu died when she touched a metal door frame at Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan in 2017.
  • Her parents are suing the Gauteng Department of Education for negligence.

The Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg has given the Gauteng Department of Education 15 days to say how it will fix infrastructure at Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan, where a teenager was electrocuted in 2017, GroundUp reported.

Matric pupil Maubrey Mahudu died instantly from electrocution when she touched the metal door frame of a mobile classroom during a storm in January 2017. She was said to have removed her shoes to keep them dry because the area was flooded due to inadequate stormwater drainage.

She would have turned 18 two days later.

Gauteng High Court Judge Marcus Senyatsi granted the order this week.

The teenager's parents, Deshage Meshak Mahudu and Mpule Gladys Mahudu, are suing the provincial education department for R7 million, alleging negligence.

'Fell through the cracks'

They also sought orders against Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to make sure that the school infrastructure was repaired, replaced and properly secured to prevent similar tragedies.

The parents said despite repeated attempts by their attorneys to ascertain what steps had been taken since their daughter's death to comply with the recommendations of an investigation report commissioned by the department, they had received no response.

"The only reasonable inference is that no steps have been taken whatsoever.

"For us, this matter is of enormous concern. It causes us great distress to think that not only did Maubrey die needlessly, but her death and the investigations have been in vain and have not resulted in other learners being protected."

The parents said the investigation report had concluded that the principal had reported issues of stolen wiring, circuit breakers and earth leakage equipment to the department. But these reports "fell through the cracks, because the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing", and each division thought the other was dealing with it.

A draft order was handed to court by their lawyers from Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, which Judge Senyatsi made an order of court. He said he was "in 100% agreement" that a proper case had been made out on the papers. The matter was unopposed.

The judge directed that:
  • The MEC and the school must urgently replace and repair circuit breakers, earth leakage and other electrical equipment at the school;
  • Gauteng education officials in the works inspection department who did not report on the death of the pupil be reprimanded;
  • The roles and responsibilities of different officials within the department should be clear to make sure that electrical infrastructure was maintained;
  • Details be given on how security will be improved to prevent repeated theft of life-saving electrical equipment; and
  • Steps be taken to discipline officials who failed to take action after the unsafe infrastructure was reported.

The judge gave the department 15 days to file affidavits to court accounting for the steps they have taken to comply with their constitutional, statutory and common-law obligations to protect pupils against the risk of electrocution.

He ordered that the applicants could then approach the court again for a further order against the department, if necessary.

SECTION27, that was admitted as an amicus curiae in the matter, said it would monitor the situation to ensure that infrastructure problems at the school were resolved speedily to prevent further violations of pupils' rights.

SECTION27 research and advocacy officer Julie Chaskalson said:

Throughout the litigation proceedings, government officials have remained silent and have not engaged on this matter. It is disappointing that education officials have remained unreachable about a case surrounding the safety of learners while at school.

"Because of the department's failure to replace life-saving and statutorily required circuit breakers and earth leakage equipment that had been stolen from the school, the learner died of electrocution when she touched the metal door frame of a mobile classroom in a thunderstorm.

"Despite it being more than five years since the learner passed away, the department has failed to fix the unsafe infrastructure at the school or even engage with stakeholders about plans to fix the infrastructure."

In its submission to the court, SECTION27 detailed the history of unsafe school infrastructure and the need for better security at schools to prevent equipment such as earth leakage and circuit breakers from being stolen.

SECTION27 also said that educational officials at all levels were responsible for ensuring the safety of pupils at school and had a constitutional duty to do so.

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