Equal Education appoints Thembeka Ngcukaithobi to probe drowning of Eastern Cape pupil

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A top advocate has been appointed to probe the drowning of an Eastern Cape pupil.
A top advocate has been appointed to probe the drowning of an Eastern Cape pupil.
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  • Three respected advocates have been appointed to probe the drowning of Avethandwa Nokhangela. 
  • The Grade 10 pupil drowned at the Palm Springs Holiday Resort, near East London, on 29 April.
  • Equal Education says the investigation is scheduled to be concluded by the end of July. 

The Equal Education National Council has appointed an independent panel, led by advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, to review the fact-finding process undertaken by the Equal Education Law Centre into the drowning of Eastern Cape pupil, Avethandwa Nokhangela, in April.

The 15-year-old girl drowned at the Palm Springs Holiday Resort, near East London, on 29 April while participating in a leadership camp organised by Equal Education (EE). 

EE has announced the independent panel, which also consists of two other advocates - Frances Hobden and Lunga Siyo - will make findings on the circumstances surrounding Avethandwa's death.

The fact-finding process, undertaken by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), was concluded on Friday, 28 May 2021.  

Avethandwa, a Grade 10 pupil, was reported missing in the surf line after being swept out to sea by a rip current while swimming with other children. 

READ Pupil, 15, drowns while attending leadership camp near East London, MEC demands thorough probe

She was part of a group of 30 pupils taking part in the camp. 

Eastern Cape Education MEC, Fundile Gade, at the time, slammed EE, describing the camp as reckless and accused the organisation of hiding the incident from the provincial department.

Gade said he had learnt about the drowning from SAPS, instead of EE, which took the pupils to the camp during school holidays. 

EE said the independent investigation would be conducted as swiftly as possible. 

"While we do not wish to be prescriptive to the independent process, it is our sincere hope that the panel can complete their investigation within eight weeks. Although advocates Hobden and Siyo will immediately start their work, upon receipt of the EELC's fact-finding report, advocate Ngcukaitobi will join them in July to complete their process by the end of that month.

"The National Council has appointed Odette Geldenhuys and Moray Hathorn, of Webber Wentzel, to support the panel, adding a further layer of independence to its process," EE said in a statement. 

The panel will:

- Review the information collected through the fact-finding process conducted by the Equal Education Law Centre, including the final report and all statements;

- Conduct any interviews, where necessary;

- Make findings to understand as best as possible exactly what took place in the moment of the tragic accident;

- Make recommendations on possible restorative justice processes between Equal Education and Avethandwa’s family and;

- Make findings and recommendations related to Equal Education, and the accountability or remedial measures that may need to be taken. 

ALSO READ | Eastern Cape education department concerned about EE's delay in reporting drowning of pupil

EE added: "We want to express again how very sorry we are for the horrible pain that Avethandwa's family is in. Supporting her family has been and continues to be our priority, and our deep care for her family and for our members, and our commitment to accountability, have guided all our efforts at this very painful time.

"The independent investigation report will be handed to the National Council of Equal Education to consider what action should be taken.

"At this stage, Equal Education cannot commit to publishing the outcome of the independent investigation because the subject matter concerns minors, the contents are privileged and may be relevant to the official processes being undertaken by the police.

"This will be revisited once the independent investigation process has been concluded and there is greater clarity regarding the police inquest."

Gade's spokesperson, Malibongwe Mtima, said the department had taken a decision that the matter should be handled between Avethandwa's family and EE.

Avethandwa's family could not be reached at the time of writing. Their comment will be added once received. 

The department will no longer respond to the media on the matter, said Mtima. 

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