Parents of 5-year-old pit toilet victim appeals high court ruling

The Supreme Court of Appeal, Bloemfontein. Photo: Ben Bezuidenhout via Wikimedia

Judge Gerrit Muller in April dismissed the family’s claim for emotional shock and trauma as well as a claim for R2 million in damages for grief.

Counsel for Section 27 and Equal Education yesterday recounted to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein how the body of a five-year-old boy, Michael Komape, lay in a pool of human faeces for over four hours after he fell into a pit toilet at his school in Limpopo back in 2014.

The Grade R pupil died of drowning when a pit latrine at the Mehlodumela Primary School, outside Polokwane, collapsed while he was using it.

His family is appealing sections of the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane judgment, which dismissed some of their claims.

Judge Gerrit Muller in April dismissed the family’s claim for emotional shock and trauma as well as a claim for R2 million in damages for grief. The court instead awarded R6,000 to each of Komape’s siblings for medical expenses.

Advocate Vincent Maleka, representing the Komape family in the SCA, argued the ruling was inadequate and that Michael died at the hands of those who were supposed to protect him.

He told the court that Michael’s body was left in the pit toilet for at least four hours, and when his father sought to take photos of the circumstances surrounding his son’s death, police instructed him to delete the pictures.

He highlighted that Michael should not have been allowed to go to the toilet unsupervised.

The SCA also heard that Michael was found with his hand stretched out, which according to his parents, was in a desperate attempt to get help that never came.

The family, in their quest for compensation, is also asking for a court order compelling the authorities to uplift standards of safety and hygiene in Limpopo schools.

Meanwhile, prominent attorney Richard Spoor has been accused of having his eyes on the listeriosis moneybags in his failed attempt to piggyback on the Komape claims appeal.

Appearing before a full bench of justices in the SCA yesterday, Spoor was accused of prematurely trying to further his clients’ case in an urgent application to link the cases.

Spoor argued to be admitted as amicus curiae, because what happens in the Komape case will affect a pending high court class action, in which the families of 86 children are seeking compensation for their deaths.

There are shortcomings in common law pertaining to the wrongful death of a child and compensation to the families. Both legal teams agree on these shortcomings and seek to have it developed.

Justice Malcolm Wallis brought up Spoor’s contingency fee in the listeriosis case, asking if he had a vested financial interest in the outcome of that case.

Justice Mahomed Navsa criticised Spoor and his team for bringing such an application at the last minute, adding that the documents presented were vast and should have been submitted earlier.

Spoor and Maleka, speaking on behalf of the Komape family, maintained the claim was based on a breach of dignity. Spoor’s application was denied and he was seen leaving courtroom A during the tea break.

OFM News

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