Education department supports full investigation after grade 10 pupil drowns during Equal Education trip

05 May 2021 - 20:58
By shonisani tshikalange AND Shonisani Tshikalange
Avethandwa Nokhangela was swept out to sea while swimming near the Palm Springs Holiday Resort near East London on Thursday.
Image: 123/alexzaitsev Avethandwa Nokhangela was swept out to sea while swimming near the Palm Springs Holiday Resort near East London on Thursday.

The basic education department said a full investigation into the death of 15-year-old Avethandwa Nokhangela from Xolani High School in the Eastern Cape was required to get to the bottom of the matter as there were many questions that remained unanswered.

The grade 10 pupil passed away in a drowning incident last week while taking part in an activity organised by Equal Education.

Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the education department was concerned that the matter had gone on for so long without any information coming forth, especially when it came to reporting the death.

“The provincial department learnt of the incident when some members of the community raised their concerns after reports involving the death of a learner in the area. Members of Sea Rescue (NSRI) services and the police assisted the department officials to piece together details of the incident,” Mhlanga said.

Mhlanga said the department in the province received information from SAPS about the incident after the body of the pupil was recovered from one of the Buffalo City metropolitan beaches.

“The delay by Equal Education in reporting the matter to the provincial education department raises serious concerns. In their letter (dated May 1 2021) to acting Eastern Cape education department HOD, Dr Soyisile Nuku, Equal Education says that they were in contact with the department only in the afternoon on Friday,” he said.

Mhlanga said a thorough investigation was required to ensure that all the facts were established and that those found responsible must be held to account.

He said the provincial department had already sent officials to the school to arrange psychosocial support to pupils and particularly those who attended the Equal Education event.

“The department has requested the SAPS to assist with the investigation and to consider a criminal case,” he said.

Meanwhile, Equal Education said it was working towards concluding a fact-finding investigation, assisted by the Equal Education Law Centre, into the circumstances surrounding the drowning.

“This is being conducted speedily and will be finalised as soon as possible. Interviews have been conducted with Equal Education staff who were present at the camp and other people who were on the scene. We have also spent time with the Equaliser’s family,” said general secretary Noncedo Madubedube.

Madubedube said the purpose of the camp, which was attended by 30 pupils from 19 schools in the province and 10 staff members, was to nurture young activists who were learning about critical thinking, politics, the economy, and campaign strategies to improve the education system, among other things.

She said further interviews still need to be conducted with some of the pupils who were present at the camp. 

Madubedube said if necessary, disciplinary proceedings will be conducted.

She said in addition, as a precautionary measure, Equal Education will undertake a review of all practices in relation to camp safety and will not hold any other camps until the finalisation of such a review.

“We are also continuously engaging with the [Eastern Cape education department] to keep its leadership abreast of the situation,” she said.