File picture: Pavel Rebrov/REUTERS.
Johannesburg - When Dov Paluch speaks of his cricket- mad son Hugo, his face lights up.He recalls his Australian-born teenage son’s undying love for the Australian cricket team.

The 14-year-old Hugo once convinced him to take him to see the Australian cricket team when they arrived in South Africa, and he got every player to sign his cricket bat.

“That was Hugo. When he wanted something he went for it. He was very focused.”

These are some of the memories the Paluch family treasure of their son, who died 19 months ago. 

He was injured when a goalpost fell on top of him at Yeshiva College in Glenhazel, east of Joburg, while he was playing soccer with classmates.

He was hospitalised for 11 days and died in hospital, a day after his birthday.

His family are now suing the school.

His parents had hoped that Yeshiva College would start a conversation about safety in schools after it had appointed an internal probe into the incident, led by a retired judge, but they have been left disappointed.

They hoped that staff who were responsible for looking after the children when the incident happened would be held accountable.

“We thought due process would play its course. I was naive,” said Paluch.

The family kept quiet about the incident until they heard about Kiyan Singh, 8, a Durban boy who was killed when he was struck by a goalpost during strong winds in November.

In Hugo’s case, the school’s goalpost was allegedly unstable, as it was not fitted properly into the ground, according to Paluch.

However, the chairperson of the school board, Avrom Krengel, told the Saturday Star that the school did its best to investigate the matter fairly.

“We took many precautions. The school was not found to be negligent. There is false information here.”

Paluch countered that the internal probe had its shortcomings.

“In fact, a number of witnesses did not testify. No police inquest was ever held. We have no option but to pursue the legal route.”

Paluch said the investigation found the equipment wasn't checked properly.

“There were no teachers on duty. If there was any supervision on the field, this would not have happened. None of this was made public.”

Paluch said some witnesses allegedly saw boys pushing the goalpost.

“There was possibly some bullying going on,” he said.

Paul Pretto, of Africa United Sports Construction, warned that goalposts could be fatal if they were not properly fitted, and a full-sized goalpost could weigh between 40kg and 100kg, depending on the type of material used.

Hugo’s mother, Nicole, said the school’s actions left the family with the impression that it was preoccupied with protecting its reputation instead of addressing the real issue, “that my child may have died due to the school not taking the safety and supervision of pupils seriously enough”.

Paluch has now started an awareness campaign for improved safety at schools.

“If a child’s death is not enough to ensure that safety is priority, what will be? These are two incidents in 18 months - two that we know about."

He told how Hugo had spearheaded an initiative called Hugo’s Greenhood, organising free lunch packs for waste pickers in Glenhazel.

“He just cared for everybody.”

Saturday Star