“The death of four-year-old Langalam Viki in a pit toilet should never have happened”

“Suffer little children, and forbid them not”

A boy-child was forced to drown in shit.
The Elders expressed shock, then promised
Change, then did nothing, less than and worse
Than nothing. Then a girl-child was forced
To drown in shit. The Elders expressed
Shock, promised great change, and did nothing.
Less than and worse than nothing. This month
A girl-child was forced to drown in shit.
The Elders expressed shock, then promised
Change, then did nothing, less than and worse
Than nothing. This poem, this story,
This song, we call this education.

In the Daily Maverick, Zukiswa Pikoli wrote, “The death of four-year-old Langalam Viki in a pit toilet should never have happened. The people who work for the Department of Education at the school, provincial and national level, who are responsible for this negligence and neglect should hang their heads in shame.”  Another South African, Melanie Verwoerd, wrote, “Thinking of the fear these little children must have felt and their desperate struggles for air in the last minutes of their lives is almost unbearable. Of all the things the government has neglected to deliver on, this is without doubt the most shameful.” On Saturday, March 18, in the town of Buffelsdoring in the Eastern Cape, four-year-old Langalam Viki was laid to rest. Langalam Viki drowned in a pit latrine at her school. When Langalam Viki did not show up at her home, her mother, went looking for her. Langalam Viki’s body was finally located and “retrieved”. What else is there to say?

On January 20, 2014, when five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a pit latrine at his school, in Limpopo, 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 refuses to replace the certain death sentences of schoolhouse pit latrines with safe and secure school toilets.

On March 12, 2018, when five-year-old Lumka Mketwa drowned in a pit latrine at her school, in the Eastern Cape, Lumka Mketwa’s family had serious questions. They asked who was responsible for their daughter’s death? They asked, who is responsible for children’s education, safety, wellbeing, when they are at school?  They asked, why is this not a national emergency? How many more children must die, how many more families must be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would have acted.

Since the unending tragedies of Michael Komape and Lumka Mketwa’s respective and combined deaths, studies have “strongly argued for the total eradication of pit latrines in all South African schools, especially those located in the rural areas and informal settlements.” Anything less would be a gross violation of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Others have noted, with a sense of urgency, “The right to basic education of a child is a requirement of human dignity. South Africa, through its new dispensation and conformity with human rights laws, is expected to transform and be consistent with the provision of the Constitution of 1996 that promotes and protects the best interest of the child.” Pit latrines are not in the best interest of the child. Meanwhile …

Zukiswa Pikoli concludes, “The name Langalam means “my sunshine” in isiXhosa. The Department of Basic Education should hang its head in shame for taking away grieving mother Nangamso Viki’s sunshine.”  The Ministers lie, the children die, the parents ask why … and the world, such as it is, moves on, and the cycle we pursue begins and ends in shame, or at least its invocation.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Lady Skollie: “Papsak Propaganda III: And I Was Really Far Out And You Thought I Was Waving, But I Was Drowning” / Everard Read)

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)