Gauteng education department appoints law firm to investigate Queenswood school drowning

Lifesaving SA calls on department to introduce legislation mandating schools and facilities to hire trained lifeguards for all aquatic activities

29 January 2024 - 12:34
By Rorisang Kgosana
Latoya Temilton, 12, drowned during a school excursion in January.
Image: Supplied Latoya Temilton, 12, drowned during a school excursion in January.

Gauteng education MEC Matome Chiloane has appointed a law firm to investigate the death of grade 7 pupil Latoya Temilton, who drowned during an excursion earlier this month.

Nchupetsang Inc Attorneys has been tasked with getting to the bottom of the tragic death when Laerskool Queenswood took pupils on a one-day trip to Wag ’n Bietjie Resort in Witkoppen on January 20.

The law firm will prioritise consulting and interviewing all relevant stakeholders involved, including pupils, teachers, the principal, the school governing body, the school management team and Temilton’s family.

Part of the investigation will be a visit to the resort to interview personnel, inspect the scene and review CCTV footage of how Temilton, 12, drowned.

“The law firm will interact with police to review postmortem results and interact with the family of the pupil, particularly on allegations that have been circulating publicly.

“The firm is scheduled to complete its investigation in seven days, after which the recommendations provided from the findings will be stringently implemented by the department,” said Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona.

Chiloane said on Monday the firm’s investigation is also to bring closure to the family, the school and fellow pupils who were traumatised by the death.

“We need answers about who didn’t do their work, who moved their eye from the children,” he said.

“The children are terrified. One moment they were all together and the next moment the child is no more.

“We also want the attorneys to give us recommendations, not only on who might be responsible but also a way forward on how to prevent such incidents. We can’t continue to have incidents where there are excursions and there is a drowning. We’ve been down this road before.”

If there was legislation in place that implored facilities and schools to ensure safety measures were put in place, tragic incidents could be prevented
Dhaya Sewduth, Lifesaving South Africa president

Chiloane could not, however, present the law firm to the family as they were in Mpumalanga after the funeral of their child. He said the department would ensure the necessary engagements between the family and the law firm take place.

“The school has assured full co-operation in this investigation, which is crucial to determine allegations and circumstances surrounding the incident. We wish to prevent incidents of this nature occurring in future.”

Temilton's death follows those of:

  • Enock Mpianzi, a Parktown Boys’ High pupil who drowned during a school camp to the Crocodile River in early 2020;
  • two Hoërskool Birchleigh pupils who drowned at a Durban beach after a schools’ rugby tournament in March 2022; and
  • two young schoolgirls who drowned at an unpatrolled beach in Amanzimtoti on their way back from a career expo in the city last year.

Lifesaving South Africa said while details about the latest drowning are unclear, preventive measures to keep children safe must be put in place.

“There should be trained lifeguards on duty around any aquatic activity, including school galas and outings,” it said.

The schoolgoing age bracket of five to 15 years for death by drownings is globally rated as second behind traffic accident deaths, the organisation said.

Drowning is is the second most common cause of death globally for the age bracket five to 15 behind traffic accident deaths, the organisation said.

Its president Dhaya Sewduth called on the education department and other authorities to develop policies and legislation aimed at preventing drownings at events involving school excursions, camps and trips.

“If there was legislation in place that implored facilities and schools to ensure safety measures were put in place, tragic incidents could be prevented,” Sewduth said.

“The lack of legislation and policies governing safety seems to point to a lack of consequence management.

“South Africa has many skilled lifeguards who are unemployed or work seasonally and would jump at the opportunity to take on the employment, even if it is casual or at weekends.”