The Department of Basic Education wishes to set the record straight, following some misleading reports emanating from the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), involving the family of the late Michael Komape.
The SCA handed down a judgment on 18 December 2019, in which it ordered the Department to pay the family R1.4m in damages.
The Limpopo Department of Education will soon pay the settlement amount to the family. Ms Beauty Mutheiwana, the Head of the Limpopo Department of Education, confirmed today that the provincial department will fulfil its obligations in this regard in the few days.
The Department is however, concerned that subsequent to the SCA ruling, various individuals have made comments in the public arena that insinuate that the Department was insensitive towards the family. And the suggestions perpetuated in the media that the Department did not support the family, are also not supported by facts.
First and foremost, the Department, at provincial and national level, conceded liability that Michael Komape (4) died at Mahlodumela Lower Primary School on 20 January 2014. Department officials visited the family to provide support, during which, words of regret and sympathy were conveyed to the family. Support was offered immediately after the passing away of the child; also towards the funeral, and years after the regrettable incident.
The provincial government, led by the Limpopo Office of the Premier, covered actual funeral costs and logistics. The Limpopo Department of Social Development provided trauma counselling to the whole family. Over and above the material assistance to the family, the Limpopo Department of Education paid an amount, which covered the funeral cost claim as well as the alleged loss of income for Mrs Komape, as ordered in an interim High Court judgement.
The Limpopo Department of Education requested a service provider, contracted to the National School Nutrition Programme, to redirect food supplies to the family, as part of the resources needed for the funeral arrangements. The Department has expressed its regret and sympathy towards the Komape family; and remains sympathetic to the family, and all of this has been done to ensure that the family gets the required support at all times.
Why did we go to court?
The Department needed the court to interpret the legal question regarding damages. “Now that the court has given a ruling on the amount, we will pay. We never refused to pay the family. It was never about money, but the need for a competent authority, to provide guidance of the appropriate quantum to be paid. On several occasions, we attempted to settle the matter out of court, but without success. Now that the SCA has given a directive, we will abide by it,” said Ms Mutheiwana.
The Department sought to defend a principle insofar as the constitutional damages claimed by the family was concerned.
We wish to stress that several attempts were made to settle the matter out of court, but to no avail. On 28 August 2017, the Minister of Basic Education wrote a letter to the Limpopo Education Department in which she advised the MEC to consider settling the matter with the family. She proposed that R1 million should be paid as a full and final settlement; that Michael’s mother, father, and siblings, should receive psychological counselling at the State cost; and that Michael be memorialised at his school, by naming one of the school buildings – possibly the library, or the administration block, after him.
The Provincial Department sought a legal opinion on the Minister’s proposals, and was advised to revise the figure suggested by Minister. Several offers were subsequently made, but these were fervently rejected by the family, ostensibly based on advice they obtained from the NGO representing the family.
The Department defended the matter in court, simply to ensure that the facts in this case were not used to develop common law, to create a new legal precedent regarding a possible award for damages the family was entitled to under common law.
“We went to court to defend a principle, and the courts agreed with us in this particular instance by the way,” said Ms Mutheiwana.
It is without doubt that the provision of basic education and proper sanitation in schools in the country is the responsibility of the government.
The Department has made great strides to replace pit latrines with appropriate sanitation facilities in schools. The Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative has been set up to accelerate the provision of such infrastructure in schools. The private sector has also come on board to assist the Department to improve sanitation provision in schools around the country.
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ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF BASIC EDUCATION