South Africa: Family of boy who fell into pit latrine to get $70,000 compensation

Michael Komape
Michael Komape

South Africa’s appeals court has granted damages to the family of a five-year-old boy who fell into a pit latrine at school and drowned in 2014.

Judges ordered the Department of Basic Education to pay Michael Komape’s family just over 1m rand ($70,000; £53,000) for emotional shock.

The department had denied responsibility for Michael’s death.

The tragedy caused outrage in South Africa, and drew attention to the lack of proper toilets in many schools.

Wednesday’s ruling overturned the decision of a lower court, which dismissed the family’s case last year.

The appeals’ court however rejected the family’s demand for 3m rand ($208,000), ruling instead that Michael’s parents should receive 350,000 rand ($24,000) each and his three siblings 100,000 rand ($7,000) each.

Michael was a pupil at the Mahlodumela Primary School in the northern Limpopo province. He drowned after going to the toilet on 20 January 2014.

Hi parents, James and Rosina, sued the minister of basic education after their son died.

Human rights group Section27, which fought the campaign to achieve justice for Michael’s family, said in a statement that it welcomed the ruling.

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An estimated 4,500 schools out of a total of 25,000 in South Africa have pit latrine toilets.

After another incident last year where a five-year-old boy drowned after falling into a latrine, President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that South Africa would eradicate pit latrines in state schools within two years.

“This is an initiative that will save lives and restore the dignity of tens of thousands of our nation’s children,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

Pit latrine
Pit latrine

South Africa’s school pit latrines

  • More than 4,500 schools have pit latrine toilets, out of almost 25,000 nationwide
  • Many are made from cheap metal, shoddily built and left uncovered
  • Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces are among the worst, according to the education ministry
  • Eastern Cape has 61 schools with no toilets at all, and 1,585 schools with pit latrines
  • Neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal province has 1,379 pit latrines in use
  • Limpopo province, where Michael Komape went to school, has at least 932 unsafe toilets
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