The water affairs and forestry minister has been held liable for the injuries sustained by a young schoolgirl when a swing at a park belonging to the department broke, causing her to fall.
Joané Geldenhuys and her friend, Lourika Schutte, (then both 11 years old) were playing on the swings at the water affairs camp in Levubu in Limpopo in March 2012, when the steel frame of the swing buckled and broke, causing both girls to fall off, with the steel beams landing on their legs.
Lourika broke both legs and the hysterical Joané jumped on her bicycle and went to get her mother, not realising she had sustained injuries as well. They then ran back to the park, where they found Lourika on the ground with both legs pointing the wrong way. Joané collapsed after her friend was taken to hospital. She only realised then both of her shins were swollen and had bruises and an open wound. She later developed pain in her knees and back. She was taken to hospital for treatment and was then sent home, but could not walk for four days because of the pain.
Joané’s mother, Maria Geldenhuys, of Groenkloof in Pretoria, instituted a R1.1 million damages claim against the minister, claiming that the department’s failure to properly maintain the play facilities for a long time, or to forewarn children and their parents of the unsafe conditions had resulted in her child’s injuries. She claimed in court papers her daughter had suffered severe injuries to her knees, wrists and back, various lacerations and psychological shock and trauma. Lourika’s father, Johan, also instituted a claim against the minister, but settled the claim in 2015, when the minister agreed to pay R2.9 million towards Lourika’s damages.
The incident shattered Lourika’s dream of becoming a professional dancer. She was a week away from participating in the national modern dancing championships when she fell off the swing. She had to undergo several operations to her legs and spent four months in a wheelchair. She still suffers from pain, battles to walk down stairs, to stand for long and she cannot crouch.
The minister opposed the latest claim on behalf of Joané, but conceded that evidence relating to the department’s failure to maintain the property had not been challenged. The amount of damages will only be determined at a later stage.