Advocacy group Equal Education says it is devastated at the death of 15-year-old Avethandwa Nokhangela. The girl drowned in the ocean while at a camp organised by the group in the Eastern Cape last weekend.
“We are mourning a member of our movement who died in a tragic accident at a learner leadership camp in East London. We are devastated by the loss and we feel deeply sorry for the terrible pain that the family is in. We remember our equaliser (Nokhangela) as a young activist leader who was very kind and vibrant,” says Equal Education general secretary Noncedo Madubedube.
Yesterday, the basic education department suggested police should consider pursuing criminal charges in the incident, angered by allegedly delayed communication by EE. But the group argues it has been fully cooperative and promised to assist the police, the department and the bereaved family of the pupil, who was attending grade 10 at Xolani High School in Zwelitsha in King Williams Town.
“Given that the police have announced that an inquest will be held into this terrible accident, we believe justice will best be served by supporting the law enforcement agencies. We will continue to interact with the family to support them, with the utmost respect for their wishes and privacy,” says Madubedube.
Members of the organisation, known as “equalisers” were at an annual leadership camp in East London, from last week Wednesday. According to EE, the purpose of the camp was to nurture young activists who were learning about critical thinking, politics, the economy and campaign strategies to improve the education system.
The leadership camp was attended by 30 schoolgoing members of Equal Education from 19 schools in the Eastern Cape, accompanied by 10 staff members.
The camp was arranged independently of the schools and the Eastern Cape education department. Most of these pupils had actively participated in Equal Education activities (such as weekly Youth Groups) since the beginning of the year.
Parents gave written permission in advance for them to participate. During a break at the camp on 29 April, Nokhangela, despite the presence of supervisors on the beach went in the water. Only learners who could swim were allowed in the water, says Madubedube.
EE staff members visited the family to inform them of the tragedy on the same day. On the very next day, the group says it contacted several education officials on the phone to inform them of the tragedy, bringing into question the department’s assertion there was a delay in communication.
” We sent a detailed letter to explain the accident, on the Saturday (1 May), to Eastern Cape education MEC Fundile Gade and to department head Mr Nuku. We spoke to the principal of the school that our Equaliser attended on the phone on Friday and also wrote to him on Saturday. We also wrote to the national Department of Basic Education , to director-general Mathanzima Mweli and Minister Angie Motshekga on Monday 3 May.”
The group is conducting its own investigation, assisted by the Equal Education Law Centre, into the circumstances surrounding the drowning. Disciplinary proceedings will be instituted depending on the outcome of the investigation, it says. The NGO says it is also providing counselling to the family and affected EE members, while the department has promised to provide counselling to surviving school pupils.