13 November 2017
Equal Education media statement: #Justice4Michael. Equal Education to make submissions as amicus curiae in Komape trial.
This week the Polokwane High Court in Limpopo begins hearing evidence in the trial of the Komape family against the State, Komape v Minister of Basic Education and Others.
On 20 January 2014, 5-year-old Michael Komape died after falling into a dilapidated pit latrine at his school in Chebeng Village, Limpopo. Represented by Section27, Michael’s family seeks damages from the State for the trauma, loss of income, expense and grief that they have suffered and continue to endure.
Equal Education (EE) was admitted as a friend of the court (amicus curiae) in this matter. EE sought status as amicus curiae in order to demonstrate the history of our campaign for the adoption of binding Regulations on Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Our submissions to the Polokwane High Court demonstrate the knowledge the State had, or ought to have had, of the crisis of inadequate and unsafe school conditions in South Africa.
The State opposed EE’s amicus curiae application , claiming among other things that there were no Constitutional matters at play in the case. On 13 June 2016, the Polokwane High Court dismissed those claims as “without substance”. Our statement on that judgement is here.
Michael’s tragic death is an extreme example of the dangers and injustices faced by poor learners across South Africa. South African schools remain places where children struggle to learn in safe, dignified and hygienic environments. While the promulgation of the Norms and Standards law in November 2013 was a critical step forward, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has ignored our calls to delete the loopholes and vagueness in the law.
When 29 November 2016 passed, the State had failed to meet its first Norms and Standards deadline. It was required, by that date, to ensure no schools were left without any source of water, electricity or sanitation, and that no school was constructed of inappropriate material. EE has been left little choice but to approach the courts to ensure that the Norms and Standards law is effective and leads to the realisation of the rights to dignity, safety and education of all learners. The review of the unconstitutional aspects of the Norms and Standards regulations is set down for 14 December in the Bhisho High Court in the Eastern Cape.
EE’s submissions as amicus curiae support the outcomes sought by the Komape family and Section27 in this case, which speaks to the long and continuing disregard for the seriousness and urgency of the challenges faced in rural and township schools. Tragically, examples are not hard to identify, and the impact of the court’s approach to this case will be far reaching. In September, a dilapidated Grade 9 classroom at Enkangala Secondary School, KwaZulu-Natal collapsed. Here again, the State had negligently delayed in addressing the need to ensure learners are taught inside a safe structure. Thankfully, the collapse happened on a Saturday when nobody was inside the classroom, and serious injury was avoided. When we published videos showing the Grade 9s at the school learning under a tree, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education claimed we had staged the scene.
Justice for the Komape family represents a step towards justice for all South African families compelled to send their children to unsafe schools. It represents not only fair legal recourse for the family, but a push back against the systematic failure to address the learning conditions of the poor, and against a crass disregard for the interests of learners.
At the Komape trial, EE represented by the Equal Education Law Centre, will submit that the State’s negligent delay in addressing poor school infrastructure is unlawful and merits the imposition of liability.
We stand with Michael.