James and Rosina Komape, the parents of the six-year-old Michael who died after he fell into a pit toilet. Picture: Moloko Moloto
Johannesburg - By the time Dr Kwena Selaki Matlala examined Michael Komape’s body two days after his death, the six-year-old’s body was infested with maggots.

Bloody froth was foaming from his mouth, there was severe oedema in his brain and his lungs were enlarged.

Michael, found Matlala, had died because he inhaled human waste.

On January 20 2014, Michael had stepped out of his Grade one classroom at the Mahlodumela Lower Primary School in Limpopo, near Polokwane, to use the dilapidated pit toilet when he fell into it and drowned.

On Monday his parents will start their quest for justice. Represented by law NGO Section27, they will begin their three-week trial against the Minister of Basic Education, the principal of the Mahlodumela Lower Primary School and its school governing body, and the Limpopo government in the High Court in Polokwane.

His parents state in court papers that they have brought the action “in the interests of their minor children and other minor children who attend schools in Limpopo, but are unable to institute these proceedings for themselves, as well as in the public interest to vindicate several constitutional rights that have been infringed”.

Section27 says the school instructed other pupils at the school not to tell anyone about the circumstances surrounding Michael’s death or that he was in the pit.

This included “withholding the fact he was in the pit from his mother when she arrived at the school, transporting her to a day care facility in the area supposedly ‘in search of him’ when they knew or ought to have known, that Michael was in distress in the pit”.

“Thousands of Limpopo learners run the daily risk of meeting the same fate as Michael, forced to learn in dilapidated, filthy classrooms, with empty stomachs (as school feeding schemes collapse) and many without all their textbooks. This is shameful,” says Section27.

Michael’s family is seeking more than R3 million in damages as the child’s death was a result of “wrongful, unlawful and negligent conduct” as well as unconstitutional conduct.

The family are still waiting for an apology from the government. “It’s the decent, human thing to do,” says Nomatter Ndebele, of Section27, adding the outcome of the case could influence sanitation policy across the country.

But the defendants deny the toilet was unsafe, unsecured or unfit for human use. “Save to admit that on January 20 2014, Michael fell into a pit toilet at the school and died, it’s denied that Michael’s fall was a result of the structure of the toilet not supporting his weight.

“Michael fell into a toilet during play time. The injury could best be described as an accident.”

Saturday Star