Death of high school learners needs accountability

2019-02-01 19:55

The collapse of a walkway that led to the death of three learners at a school in Vanderbijlpark on Friday was a violation of the constitutional duties of the department of education.

This was according to Gauteng provincial manager for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Buang Jones who said that the education department together with the Emfuleni municipality should be held accountable for the tragic demise of the Hoërskool Driehoek learners.

Speaking to City Press, Jones said, “We are concerned with reports that the department has failed to fix unsafe school buildings in the province and in this school particularly.”

“This incident was a violation of the right to life, the right to education and children’s rights by the department that has failed to ensure the safety of learners,” he added.

This comes after a total of 26 learners between the ages of 13 - 18 were involved in the collapse of a pathway at their school in Vanderbijlpark which left 23 injured and three deceased.

According to Jones, a judgement was brought by Equal Education National Council against the department of education last year.

“The Eastern Cape High Court ruled that it was unconstitutional and invalid for the government to delay fixing poor and unsafe school infrastructure. We believed that the judgment would help redress past inequalities by making sure all schools were provided with the minimum standard of infrastructure. But the education department has not played its role,” he said.

Jones said that the department had violated section 18(14) of the legally binding Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure published by Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga in 2013.

Pupils from Hoerskool Transvalia are pictured leaving flowers, paying their respect to learners who died at Hoerskool Driehoek in Vandrbijlpark. Picture: Rosetta Msimango/City Press

“These are standards that set a standard for provincial education departments to work towards, and against which to be held accountable, and enable communities to hold government officials accountable,” he said.

According to section 18(14), school design must comply with all relevant laws, including the National Building Regulations, SANS 10­400 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act,1993 (Act No 85 of 1993).

Spokesperson for the Gauteng department of education, Steve Mabona said that it was important for the school to be monitored very closely because it was old.

“With the naked eye it is not easy to determine whether or not a part of the building such as the one that collapsed today could be of detriment. Qualified engineers who are experts in their field would be able to tell if there was a possible danger. It is a tricky situation,” he said.

Mabona, however, added, “All reports received by the department, relating to infrastructure have been attended to. We do have a backlog of schools to attend, to but we are working hard to do so. We are trying to make sure that schools are improved and that where there are defaults, we fix them as needed.”

Gauteng Provincial manager for South African Human Rights Commission Buang Jones is pictured at Hoerskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark where three pupils died when a walkway collapsed. Picture: Rosetta Msimango/City Press

Addressing the media at the school, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said that from the three deceased, two were male and one was female.

“We have managed to identify one from the three and we are still looking to identify the other two learners so we can inform their next of kin,” he said.

“From the 23 others, two were released and 21 were hospitalised. From the 21, five were P1 patients [required immediate resuscitation and stabilisation, and must be put in critical care]. 14 were P2 patients [patients whose lives were not in immediate danger but required surgical or medical intervention within 2 - 4 hours ]. And two were P3 patients [needed medical treatment, but it could safely be delayed].”

Lesufi added that he could not speculate on the cause of the collapse at the more than 40-year-old school with about 1000 learners.

“I cannot say anything about the stability of the structure or what led to the collapse. The area where the incident happened is now a crime scene and we need to allow the officials to carry out their investigation,” he said.

Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubela said that an inquest docket had been opened by his department.

“We are investigating the death of the three learners. At the moment our investigation involves gathering statements from people who witnessed the collapse to tell us what they saw,” he said.

We are also waiting for a report from engineers who will inspect the structure and inform of us of what exactly led to the collapse of the pathway. All our findings will then be reported to the courts who will decide on what action to take.”

A sense of sadness was shared all around as family members gathered to comfort each other. In an attempt to speak to City Press, the school’s principal fought back his tears.

Learners from Hoërskool Transvalia, a school that is about 2km from Hoërskool Driehoek were at the school to show their respects by placing flowers at the entrance.

Harco Lintveld, a grade nine learner from Hoërskool Transvalia, told City Press how he found out about the incident.

“We were in our first class for the day and then we heard ambulances [sirens] and helicopters around the area but didn’t think much of it. When we got to our second lesson that’s when our teacher told us that a bridge had collapsed at Driehoek and that some learners had died,” he said.

His friend Franco Odendaal who is also a learner at Hoërskool Transvalia said that what had happened was a tragedy.

“Families and parents will never get to see the faces of those three who passed away. There is nothing worse than losing a child,” he said.

Lesufi said that the school would remain closed until further notice.

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September 15 2019