Education Department not liable for ex-pupil’s injuries

Education Department not liable for ex-pupil’s injuries. Picture: File

Education Department not liable for ex-pupil’s injuries. Picture: File

Published Dec 11, 2023


The Limpopo Department of Education is not responsible for the damages suffered by a now former learner who lost his eye during a fight while he and his fellow students were at an official sporting event at another school.

Emmanuel Mphela was a learner at the Kgokolo High School in Limpopo when the incident occurred.

He blamed the teachers for being negligent by allegedly not keeping a proper watch over the learners during the sporting event and turned to the high court, sitting in Polokwane, to claim damages against the Education Department.

But the department said the incident occurred far away from the sporting field where the teachers were supervising the children. Thus none of the teachers saw the incident.

The high court earlier absolved the department from any wrongdoing. Mphela, however, took the matter on appeal before three judges.

He told the court that he and other learners went on an official school sporting trip to another school in the Zebediela area. While attending that event, he was attacked by another learner and other unknown people.

He claimed he was pepper sprayed in front of his teachers, hit in the face and then, while on the ground, kicked in the face.

He was taken to hospital and ended up with his right eye being permanently blind. He was told by the doctor that he was hit on the right eye with a bottle.

Mphela said that educators from Kgokolo High School who had been accompanying the learners to the sporting event were negligent in that they failed to protect him from being attacked.

The department, meanwhile, said Mphela and other learners went to a tavern without the knowledge and permission of the educators while the school event was still on. At the tavern, the department said, he was among the learners who were gambling with a dice.

The department said the educators had a duty to provide safety and protection to the learners within the premises of the school and not at the tavern where the incident occurred.

Mphela’s version is that the boys’ played soccer at a field that was outside the host school premises. According to him, for the entire period he was at the soccer ground, he did not see any educator going around the soccer field to check whether the learners were safe.

There was also no access control to control as to who might come to the soccer field as a spectator, he said.

Mphela explained that while he was watching soccer, he heard a noise and saw some commotion at the soccer field. He went closer to look and he saw that one of the learners was injured.

He said the people who were around the injured learner were screaming, asking for water to assist the injured child. His version is that while he was still looking for water, he was pepper-sprayed in his eyes and attacked.

Sarah Mafiri, the principal of Kgoloko High School at the time, said 130 learners went to the sporting event for netball and soccer, accompanied by six teachers.

She said after she had heard that Mphela was injured, she and others went to hospital, where he told her that he was hurt when two people wanted to rob him of his shoes. He was apparently unable to fight these people as he was drunk.

These two people attacked him with stones and a bottle, and from there he did not see what happened thereafter. Mafiri said his father and his uncle were present when he gave her this version of the events.

While the scene of the attack was in dispute, Judge Maake Kganyago said the crucial witness to have assisted the court was the learner whom Mphela claimed he wanted to assist on the soccer field.

This learner was not called, nor any other learner who could corroborate Mphela’s version of events.

He also found that the ratio of the educators from Kgokolo High School were more than sufficient to have supervised their learners. He found that Mphela had decided to sneak away and changed into civilian clothes, which would have made it difficult for the teachers to monitor his movements.

In turning down the appeal, the judge found Mphela acted on a frolic of his own and that the department cannot be held accountable for what happened at the tavern.

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