Pit toilet case: Court hears that Limpopo education dept had funds

Polokwane - The Limpopo High Court heard on Thursday that infrastructure development was halted in the province when the Department of Basic Education’s spending patterns became the subject of an investigation.

This was revealed in a civil case, which stems from the death of five-year-old Michael Komape, who drowned in a pit toilet at his school near Polokwane in 2014. His family is suing for damages.

Section27 lodged the claim on the family’s behalf.

Budget analyst Daniel McLaren, representing Section27, claimed that the department had failed to spend more than R90m, while dozens of schools had no toilets.

National government had placed some of the provincial departments, including education, under administration.

"When the intervention team came to save the fiscus, almost all projects were suspended. As a result, the department could not pay contractors as there was an investigation launched," said Samson Phaswane, who represents the national and provincial education departments.

McLaren and Section27 painted a shocking picture of the state of sanitation in the province.

READ: Basic education dept was warned of 'sinking' toilets 10 years ago, Limpopo court hears

They said Mahlodumela Primary School, where Michael drowned, was an example of how schools were left to use dilapidated toilets when the department sat on its allocation.

In 2013, Section27 alerted the department about the state of school logistics and sanitation with the hope that a crisis would be eliminated.

However, the crisis came to a head when Michael fell into the toilet.

Section27 executive director Mark Heywood said that, by then, they had forwarded a list of at least 404 schools that required urgent intervention because their sanitation was on the verge of collapse.

He said some toilets stripped pupils of their dignity because they had no doors.

Heywood explained that they conducted their sanitation investigation after it emerged that the department was in crisis.

"We were told yes, the department would commit to the sanitation, but this did not translate to the activities in the schools," argued Heywood.

Some pupils relieved themselves in the bush.

Heywood pleaded for the government to stop undermining the sanitation situation.