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Statement: Update on the tragic drowning of our Eastern Cape Equaliser, as our movement mourns

Equal Education statement: Update on the tragic drowning of our Eastern Cape Equaliser, as our movement mourns

We are mourning Avethandwa Nokhangela, a member of our movement who passed away in a tragic drowning accident at our learner leadership camp in the Eastern Cape. We are devastated by this loss of a daughter and sister, a Comrade and friend, and a smart and bubbly young activist leader. We are heartbroken by the grief her family and friends are experiencing, as well as our members and staff.

We are a movement that is led by our learner members, in campaigning for a quality education for all learners. The camp was an annual leadership camp, held outside East London last week, and its  purpose was to nurture young activists, who were learning about critical thinking, politics, the economy, and campaign strategies. Most of these learners have been participating in Equal Education activities (such as weekly Youth Groups) since the beginning of this year. On Friday 29 April, during a scheduled break at camp, Avethandwa got into distress while swimming and tragically drowned.

The Equal Education Law Centre is conducting a fact-finding investigation into this tragedy. The outcomes will be handed over to an independent reviewer. This will be finalised as soon as possible. Equal Education staff who were present at the camp, and other people who were there, have already been interviewed. There will still be interviews with some of the learners who were at the camp.  Depending on the outcomes of the investigation, disciplinary proceedings will take place if necessary.  And as a precaution, we will undertake a review of all practices in relation to camp safety and will not hold any other camps until this review is finalised.

Given that the police have announced that an inquest will be held into this terrible accident, we also believe justice will best be served by continuing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, as well as the Eastern Cape Department of Education.

The need for sensitivity in this time of grief and sadness, as well as prioritising the needs of Avethandwa’s family and other affected learners has been our primary concern.

We will continue to interact with the family to support them in this difficult time, with respect for their wishes and privacy. We have spent time with them, supported the funeral expenses and arranged counselling for the family, as well as for our learner members and staff. Some of our staff attended a memorial service held by Avethandwa’s school on Wednesday 5 May, and we will also be attending the funeral.

We believe that the long process of healing will be enabled through supporting those directly affected by this tragedy, especially Avethandwa’s family but including our members and staff, who have lost a Comrade and friend.

Leanne Jansen-ThomasStatement: Update on the tragic drowning of our Eastern Cape Equaliser, as our movement mourns