Thabang M’belle suffered fatal injuries during a rugby match for Potchefstroom High School for Boys in 2002. Picture: Supplied.
Thabang M’belle suffered fatal injuries during a rugby match for Potchefstroom High School for Boys in 2002. Picture: Supplied.

'These people are quiet as if my son was a dog...' says mother of deceased rugby player

By Manyane Manyane Time of article published Mar 14, 2021

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Potchefstroom - Lumka M’belle, the mother of the late star rugby player Thabang M’belle, who was a pupil at Potchefstroom High School for Boys in North West, is still fighting for justice 19 years after her son died after he had sustained a concussion in an earlier match but was still allowed to play by the school’s rugby coach.

In 2002, Thabang was only 18 and in his matric year. His rugby career was on the rise because he was playing for the Junior Springbok team.

Before that fateful day, doctors had advised the boy not to participate in further matches until told otherwise, but the school coach allegedly ignored the doctor’s orders and fielded him in a match.

On the day of the match, Thabang sustained head injuries, collapsed on the field and was taken to a hospital where he died a few hours later.

Thabang M'belle

According to the histology report by Medico-Legal Laboratory in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Thabang had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane issued a report in 2017 which recommended that the North West Department of Education should make an ex gratia payment to the M’belle family within 90 days of the report.

Mkhwebane also ordered that a report regarding the circumstances of Thabang’s death be issued within 90 days and that the matter be reported to the SAPS within 30 days after the report was issued.

However, M’belle said the department had honoured only one of the recommendations which was paying the family an ex gratia payment of R100 000, and only in 2020.

To date the school principal and the coach had not been called to account.

“Despite honouring the one and only finding of the public protector by paying the 100k, the department hasn’t acknowledged the culpability of the coach and the principal for the death of my child.

“They still maintain that no one should be blamed, and that it was a mere incident. That cannot be true. Who made a decision to include my son in the team despite him suffering a concussion before the match? These people are quiet as if my son was a dog that was hit by a car,” said M’belle.

“What I want for my son is justice. He was killed,” she said.

“This case has been drawn out for years, and I still don’t have answers about what happened to my son,” she added.

She said she only received a docket in December 2019 following Mkhwebane’s report.

“The SAPS did not do an inquest by then. They suddenly discovered the docket after I involved the media in this matter. The document stated he had a brain haemorrhage, which I believe should be investigated. But the SAPS never did that,” M’belle said.

Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Colonel Noxolo Kweza did not respond to questions from the Sunday Independent.

The 59-year-old M’belle had also referred the matter to the National Prosecuting Authority and SA Human Rights Commission.

Asked how the matter was handled, NPA advocate Deon Barnard referred questions to spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane, who said: “A file for representations was opened on January 30, 2020, and allocated to one of the prosecutors in the office. The prosecutor is working closely with the investigating officer, guiding the investigations. Once investigations are finalised, a decision will be made on how to deal with the matter, going forward.”

SAHRC senior legal officer Osmond Mngomezulu said: “Please note that the matter referred to in your email constitutes a pending complaint before the South African Human Rights Commission. We conducted a preliminary assessment of the matter and shared the assessment report with the complainant. We invited her to make submissions on the preliminary assessment. She has responded to the Commission’s request for submissions. The response is being considered.”

North West education spokesperson Elias Malindi refuted M’belle’s claims, saying the department complied with Mkhwebane’s recommendations. He said the department took M’belle for professional counselling.

“(The) Department made a follow up on progress regarding the inquest of the late Thabang and the case is in the hands of a public protector in Johannesburg.

“A report was also made for the Presidency and Parliament. The department complied 100% and is really sympathetic to Ms M’belle for the loss and her endeavour to find the truth,” said Malindi, who suggested that M’belle should approach the department.

Sunday Independent

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