The inside of a mobile classroom. A matric learner was electrocuted in a mobile classroom at the Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan after she touched a metal door frame during a storm. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
The inside of a mobile classroom. A matric learner was electrocuted in a mobile classroom at the Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan after she touched a metal door frame during a storm. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Section27 adds voice to pending court application to ensure safe infrastructure at Gauteng schools

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Oct 27, 2021

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Pretoria - Section27 public interest law centre is adding its voice to a pending court application to ensure safe infrastructure at Gauteng schools following the death of a learner in 2017.

It is asking to be admitted as a friend of the court in a Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, application, following the incident where a learner was electrocuted at school.

The incident happened because circuit breakers, earth leakage and other electrical equipment had been repeatedly stolen, which made the school environment unsafe.

The matric learner died in January 2017 in a mobile classroom at the Geluksdal Secondary School in Brakpan after she touched a metal door frame during a storm and was electrocuted.

Julia Chaskalson of Section27 said while the incident occurred more than four years ago, the Gauteng Department of Education did not confirm that it addressed the unsafe infrastructure at the school.

“Learners at the school therefore remain at risk of serious injury or death. Risks to learners’ safety and rights need to be prevented at all costs, and where dangerous infrastructure is flagged, as was the case at this school.”

She said provincial departments should remedy the situation timeously so that catastrophes never occurred again.

Chaskalson said unsafe school infrastructure violated learners’ interconnected rights to basic education, an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being, children’s right to have their best interests considered as paramount in all matters concerning them, as well as equality, dignity and life.

“The relevant departments must be proactive and comply with their duties to prevent injuries and deaths due to unsafe infrastructure at all schools, and not only in high-profile cases reported on in the media,” Chaskalson said.

Section27 will highlight the pattern of neglect for learner safety, the prevalence of unsafe school infrastructure and an absence of accountability by public officials for tragedies that have happened due to unsafe school infrastructure across the country.

It will, however, not represent the dead learner’s family.

At the school in question, electrical equipment like circuit breakers and earth leakage had been vandalised and stolen from the school at least three times because the school was not fenced or secured.

The school reported this as early as March 2016, and regularly in monthly reports to the local district and Gauteng Department of Education offices.

Adequate perimeter fencing and security measures are a statutory requirement for schools, Chaskalson said.

The minimum norms and standards of public school infrastructure state that all schools must have perimeter fencing of at least 1.8m high and at least one additional security measure like burglar bars, alarms or a security guard to ensure that school property is not stolen or vandalised.

“Provincial education departments were supposed to deliver fencing and security infrastructure to all schools by November 29 last year – a deadline which Gauteng failed to meet.

“Had the Gauteng department met its statutory obligations to provide this school with security, persistent theft of life-saving electrical safety equipment at the school would have been less likely, and this learner may not have tragically died,” Chaskalson said.

In the year in which the child died, an independent report commissioned by the Gauteng department found them negligent, but no action was immediately taken to ensure school conditions were made safer.

“In fact, according to infrastructure monitoring reports from the Gauteng department, between 2017 and 2018 – the year in which the learner died – no schools in Gauteng were provided with fencing and security.”

Chaskalson said that to date, close to a year after the deadline for providing fencing to schools and four years after the death of this learner, it was not clear whether the electrical equipment and security measures necessary to prevent them from being stolen had been delivered to the school, and learners might remain at risk.

Section27 will, among other things, argue that the court must issue an order which requires the Gauteng department to take immediate action to fix the problems at this school and maintain judicial oversight to ensure a tragedy like this is never repeated.

“Learners have the right to a basic education in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.

“Every school – including those attended by poor and black learners – must be compliant with regulations on safe school infrastructure so that vulnerable learners are not put at risk and their rights jeopardised,” she said.

Pretoria News

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