Parliament’s select committee on education and technology, sport, and arts and culture has offered its condolences to the family and friends of two Gauteng school pupils who drowned in two separate incidents during the past week.

Parktown Boys’ High School pupil Enoch Mpianzi, 13, tragically died during a grade 8 orientation camp on Wednesday 15 January.

It is believed that Enoch and some other boys were on a make-shift raft which overturned on the Crocodile River in the North West. Enoch’s body was only found on Friday morning by search-and-rescue teams.

According to The Citizen, Mpianzi’s parents, who are unemployed refugees, said they were asked to provide a life jacket for their son. However, having had to already borrow R800 to fund his school trip, they could not afford this added expense.

Sunday Times also reported that his parents said they were not too worried about the life jacket as they were under the impression that the water activities would be taking place in a controlled and supervised environment.

Some fatal errors

TheSouthAfrican also pointed out some fatal blunders surrounding the orientation camp in a report on Friday 17 January. These include:

Considering the remote location of the camp and the ferocity of the Crocodile River, parents of the pupils claim that their children were not allowed to take their cellphones along.

No immediate search was launched after Mpianzi was swept away on Wednesday. Previous reports stated that he was only found to be missing during roll-call on Thursday morning when the Parktown Boys’ trip organisers made contact with the authorities.

This was, however, later contradicted by a boy who was seated next to Mpianzi on their way to the camp. According to Mpianzi’s family, this young boy said he was the first to raise the alarm that Enoch was missing after the boys had returned from the activity.

MEC Panyaza Lesufi: ‘Drowning will be investigated’

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who accompanied the parents during the search-and-rescue operations, has told the media during a visit to the school on Friday that the death would be investigated.

“I was not briefed on whether the people that assisted the children and the children themselves had life jackets or given a water safety talk, so that part of the information was not provided to me.”

The MEC also said he was struggling to understand “the timeline of events”:

“From where I am, it’s been difficult to explain what happened. The principal of Parktown Boys indicated that the incident had happened on Wednesday, but we were only informed about it yesterday [Thursday]. I am very concerned about all other camps in the province.

“I don’t doubt that the school wanted to make sure all children are safe. I doubt that they wanted the boy to drown. What is concerning is the timelines… When we suspended this camp, I had the feeling to issue a communique that all camps in the province must be cancelled.”

Another drowning: Lesufi says schools are turning into mortuaries

In another incident, 13-year-old pupil grade 7 pupil Keamohetswe Shaun Seboko, of the Laerskool Bekker, in Magaliesburg, drowned in the school’s hostel swimming pool on Wednesday afternoon.

The committee called on the basic education department, school principals, and teachers to strengthen safety measures to ensure the safety of pupils, especially during after-school activities, committee chairperson Elleck Nchabeleng said in a statement on Sunday 19 January.

“Educators and facilitators must take full responsibility and must always have a watchful eye on pupils, especially when they are involved in activities away from their homes. This is something we do not compromise on,” he said.

Lesufi spoke to the media on Sunday after visit the family of Seboko, vowing to expel school staff if they were found to have been negligent in the protection of pupils.

“Where it is staff-related negligence, the department will take action. If they need to be expelled or banned … we will do it. It is non-negotiable,” he told broadcaster eNCA in Magaliesburg.

“We are turning our schools into mortuaries…we must stop that.”

Call to also focus on school violence

The committee also called on the department to focus attention on violence taking place at schools. The recent stabbing of a grade 9 pupil during a schoolyard brawl at John Ramsey High School in Bishop Lavis in Cape Town was one such example of violence. It was believed that the pupil was attacked by four boys, two of whom were not pupils at the school. The committee wished the wounded pupil a speedy recovery.

“There have been so many incidents of tragic death of pupils just in a week after schools have re-opened. While we cannot mention each and every incident, we are aware, as the committee, about many of these tragic incidents where pupils have lost their lives or [been] injured,” Nchabeleng said.

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Presh JM Reporter

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