School‚ MEC and Minister blamed for 2014 killer blaze at school for the deaf

07 February 2018 - 12:47 By Naledi Shange
The SA Human Rights Commission said the respondents had not protected the rights to human dignity and life of the learners enrolled at the North West School for the Deaf.
The SA Human Rights Commission said the respondents had not protected the rights to human dignity and life of the learners enrolled at the North West School for the Deaf.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has blamed education officials for the deaths of three pupils at the North West School for the Deaf in August 2014.

The commission said on Wednesday that department officials‚ including Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga‚ were responsible for the pupils burning to death at their hostel in Leeudoringsstad.

"The Commission finds that the respondents (North West School for the Deaf‚ the Head of Department (HOD)‚ North West Department of Education‚ the MEC for Education‚ North West Department of Education‚ and the Minister of Basic Education) failed to comply with legislation and policy‚ including the National Building Standards‚ Regulations and National Norms and Standards‚ Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools and Uniform Norms and Standard the Department of Public Works Disability Policy Guidelines‚" it said in a statement.

The commission began its probe in September 2014 after it learnt that the three pupils were killed in their sleep as the hostel was razed by fire.

Part of the commission's probe was to find out if the fire warning systems at the school were functional‚ and if any school official was on duty at the time of the fire and whether there was any violation of human rights.

Following its lengthy probe‚ the commission said the respondents had not protected the rights to human dignity and life of the learners enrolled at the school.

Among their list of findings‚ the SAHRC said the respondents had failed to take measures to protect the learners‚ even locking the doors to their residence from outside.

It further found them guilty of:

- failing to adhere to the minimum safety and fire standards on the school premises.

- not complying with legislative and policy imperatives for reasonable accommodation for learners with disabilities.

- not protecting the rights of learners with disabilities to access education.

The commission recommended that the South African Council of Educators institute disciplinary proceedings against employees of the North West education department who failed to ensure that safety measures were in place at the school

The commission said there was a systemic non-compliance with the minimum building‚ safety and fire standards for residential facilities in special schools in the North West Province. This included Hoërskool Wolmaransstad‚ where the NWSD learners were moved after the fire.

The commission recommended that the South African Council of Educators (SACE) institute disciplinary proceedings against employees of the North West education department who failed to ensure that safety measures were in place at the school.

"Where disciplinary measures have already been invoked – either by SACE or the Second Respondent (HOD‚ North West Department of Education) – that a detailed report of the disciplinary steps taken in the matter (if any) be provided to the commission within three months of the release of this final investigation report."

The HOD of the school was also ordered to appoint specialists to give counselling to the families of the deceased learners and those who survived the ordeal.

It also called for an audit of all the special needs schools in the province and for safety risk training be given to all employees.

It further recommended that a centralised system be set up to monitor safety standards compliance. The school has two months to provide feedback to the SAHRC on the measures it intended to put in place to ensure learners' safety.

The police have also conducted their own investigation into the matter. The SAHRC said it would consult with the police to request that criminal proceedings be initiated against all implicated in those investigations.

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