The department of basic education (DBE) says the court battle between it and the family of Michael Komape, who died after falling into a pit toilet, was not about money, saying all it wanted was for the court to determine the appropriate amount of damages.
Head of the Limpopo DBE, Ndiambani Mutheiwana, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We never refused to pay the family. It was never about the money, but the need for a competent authority to provide guidance on the appropriate quantum to be paid.”
According to department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga wrote a letter to the Limpopo department of education on August 28, 2017, advising the MEC to settle the matter out of court with a proposed figure of R1m.
The provincial department sought legal opinion on the matter, which suggested that the proposed figure be revised. Several offers were made but the family rejected these.
Mutheiwana added that the department approached the court to establish legal precedent when dealing with the awarding of damages to families.
“We went to court to defend a principle and the court agreed with us on this instance, by the way,” Mutheiwana said.
The department will fulfil the payment within “the next few days”, according to Mutheiwana.
However, the department wanted to set the record straight due to “misleading reports” after the SCA ruled on Wednesday that the Komape family should be paid R1.4 million in damages for emotional shock.
“The department is, however, concerned that subsequent to the SCA ruling, various individuals have made comments in the public arena that insinuate that the department was insensitive towards the family.
“And the suggestions perpetuated in the media that the department did not support the family, are also not supported by facts,” the statement read.
It listed ways in which the province offered support to the family: “The provincial government, led by the office of the premier covered actual funeral costs and logistics. The Limpopo department of social development provided trauma counselling to the whole family. Over and above the material assistance to the family, the Limpopo department of education paid an amount which covered the funeral costs claim as well as the alleged loss of income for Mrs Komape as ordered in the interim high court judgment.”
The Limpopo High Court in Polokwane initially dismissed the Komape family’s claim for general and constitutional damages, News24 reported.
However, Judge Gerrit Muller ordered that two of Komape’s siblings should be paid R6,000 each for medical expenses. The family then appealed sections of the judgment to the SCA.
Michael drowned when a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Seshego, Limpopo, collapsed while he was using it on January 20, 2014.