To this day, Mandisa Mkhethwa recalls the fatal day she lost her five-year-old daughter Lumka who drowned in faeces in a pit latrine at a school in Bizana, Eastern Cape.
Her death at Luna Primary School followed a nationwide controversy over the continued use of pit toilets. This was the second death through drowning in pit toilets in schools, the first being Michael Komape's in 2014 at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo .
Little Lumka’s death left the family shocked and in a state of grieving since March, when the incident happened.
Despite giving birth a month ago to a baby boy, Mkhethwa has still not come to terms with her baby girl’s horrific death.
“Lumka didn’t come home that day and her father and I anxiously waited. We thought that maybe she had taken the wrong transport home and prayed and hoped that she would return, but that didn’t happen,” said the teary-eyed mother.
According to her, instead, Lumka’s classmate came to their house carrying her jacket, saying she had found it on the school grounds. Police later came to announce the tragic news.
The grieving mother said she would never fully heal from the ordeal.
“I don’t have anyone to prepare for school or clean up after. At times I wish I was not alive. I swear she died with a part of me too,” she said, speaking to The Star during a function held in the Eastern Cape by the MTN Foundation to install 29 new toilets at Luna Primary School.
Lumka’s aunt, Ntombekhaya Mtsheke, said the day of the funeral was one she didn't wish ever to experience again, and although she was happy her sister has a newborn infant, the pain was still unbearable.
“Lumka was a dedicated and hard-working girl. I pray God gives her mother a new one.
"Although some time has now elapsed, and she is healing daily, you can still see the pain in her eyes. It is indeed tough for the family. We are not coping at all,” said Mtsheke.
To prevent further tragedies of this nature, the MTN Foundation installed proper toilets at the school.
“The MTN Foundation is very proud to have been able to assist Luna Primary School with dignified and safe toilets. We’ve heard President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina call, and we hope corporate South Africa will join us in making sure all our children have appropriate sanitation,” said Jacqui O’Sullivan, spokesperson of MTN.
Provincial Eastern Cape spokesperson Sonwabo Mbananga said the department was delighted that the private sector understood that the government could not fight this difficulty alone.
“The provincial government is concerned by the recent incident of the death of Lumka due to inadequate sanitation. We need to turn around the profile of the poverty-ridden Eastern Cape and the lack of infrastructure to ensure that schools in the province produce well-performing children,” said Mbananga.
In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape, who was in Grade R learner, went to use a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village, near Polokwane, which was dilapidated. He fell and drowned in human waste on his third day at the school.
Equal Education took the matter to the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho, which ruled on the matter in June this year.
Acting Judge Nomawabo Msizi found that the regulations relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure were “fraught with unconstitutional loopholes and vagueness”.
The court ordered that the regulations be changed to reflect that all classrooms are built “substantially” and that those built with inappropriate materials should be given attention.