Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?

 

(Photo Credit: Times Live)

Michael Komape did not fall to his death in a pit latrine. The State pushed and murdered him.

On January 20, 2014, Michael Komape, five years old, went to the toilet in his primary school in Limpopo, in South Africa. He never returned. The toilet seat was corroded, gave way, and Michael Komape fell into the pit and drowned to death in feces. Three years later, his parents and siblings have received neither apology nor support from anyone in government. His parents sued the Minister of Basic Education, and that trial began last week. Today, the court heard that the Department of Basic Education had been warned numerous times about the dangerous condition of toilets in Limpopo schools. The Department did nothing. The Department received three series of warning letters, in 2004 and 2008 and 2009, that described the school’s toilets as dangerously sinking. The State did nothing. Doing nothing means refused to act. Michael Komape did not fall to his death in a pit latrine. He was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered.

The afternoon of January 20, 2014, the school called Michael’s mother, Rosina Komape, to tell her that Michael was “missing.” Rosina Komape went to the school, and a classmate of Michael’s told her that Michael had last been seen going to the toilet, an outside pit latrine. School officials denied this, and claimed that Michael had gone out to play. Rosina Komape told the classmate to take her to the toilets: “When I looked inside the toilet I saw Michael’s hand. I then said that my child died asking for help … I asked them to pull him out by the hand maybe we can save him. I thought if we pulled him out we could save him. The principal said they had called someone to pull him out. I thought he was still alive and if we pulled him out and took him to hospital he would get help.” Michael Komape drowned in a pool of human feces, reaching to the sky. His mother came and found his outstretched arm.

The family is traumatized by and angry with the State. Days of testimony have revealed what we already knew, that the family of parents and siblings is grieving and living with nightmares, that the State has steadfastly stood fast and never extended any kind of hand to the family, and that this was a death foretold. In South Africa, 4624 schools have pit latrines.

The family is haunted, but not the State. Why not? While this story is particular to South Africa where it is seen as yet another referendum on the state of the democracy, and the human heart, it sits with similar stories around the world. It’s the story of neoliberal development, centered on global cities. Walk the streets of the Cape Town or Johannesburg or Washington, DC, metropolitan centers, and you will see extraordinary change taking place. Buildings go up, streets are torn up to lay underground cables, mansions rise where once modest homes sat, shopping malls and boutique shops proliferate, and the list goes on. Who pays for that? Michael Komape, Michael Komape’s brothers and sisters, Michael Komape’s mother and father. Last Wednesday, James Komape, Michael’s father, said, “They should have helped. My son was going to school. I did not send him to die.” I did not send him to die, and yet he was sent to his death, by a State that prefers waterfront malls to safe and secure school toilets.

Someone once wrote “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear … twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Today, the first time is tragedy, and the second horror. Michael Komape did not fall, and his death, however painful and haunting, was not tragedy. Michael Komape was murdered, and, other than the family, who today is haunted? Who is haunted by the dead of Marikana, by the dead of Life Esidimeni, by the dead five-year-old child drowning in a pool of shit, reaching to the sky? When we look, do we see Michael’s hand? We should have helped.

Michael Komape, two months before his death

(Image Credit: BBC / Section 27 / Kirsten Whitefield) (Photo Credit: News24)