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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Education activist says Equal Education should account for learner’s death

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta has called on Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to institute an enquiry into Equal Education’s fitness to work with children following the untimely death of a minor, who died at a camp that was organised by Equal Education.

This comes after 15-year-old grade 10 pupil from Xolani High School in the Eastern Cape Avethandwa Nokhangela drowned while attending a leadership camp at Palm Springs Resort outside East last month.

Makaneta said the teaching community is extremely disturbed by the news of the untimely death of Avethandwa passing.

Makaneta asked that the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education institute an enquiry into Avethandwa’s death “with a view to ensure that the NGO is held accountable for the incident that has caused trauma and shock to the entire country”, he said.

“It should be clear from preliminary reports that Equal Education failed to protect the life of Avethandwa, and they should therefore take full responsibility and apologise to the nation.

“Equally they should offer to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education even before they are called to explain themselves,” said Makaneta.

Equal Education has since released a statement that its law centre is leading an independent investigation and will conclude a fact-finding process.

The NGO said its national council has appointed an independent panel to review the process and make finding on the circumstances surrounding learner’s passing.

“It has not been easy to respond to some criticism in the media around the immediate disclosure of what happened on 29 April.

“We believe that the compassionate approach – which was to prioritise support to the grieving family, learners and our staff – was the correct one in the circumstances. We also chose to respect Avethandwa’s family’s request for space after laying her to rest. Not only would divulging details in these circumstances have been insensitive and uncaring, it would prejudice the Equal Education Law Centre’s fact finding inquiry and the work of the independent panel,” said the Equal Education’s board.

Last week Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga also criticised the NGO.

“So many unanswered questions yet Equal Education is nowhere to take responsibility and shed light publicly on what really happened regarding Avethandwa’s death,” said Mhlanga.

In response, Equal Education’s Professor Mary Metcalfe said the loss of Avethandwa is terrible – and in such tragic circumstances for the family.

“But it is unfair to take such a hostile attitude to Equal Education. Let the enquiry inform us of what can all learn from this incident,” said Metcalfe.

Adding that she regards the NGO as an asset to the country.

Mhlanga, Like Makaneta, said the department has not taken a hostile attitude against the NGO but that Equal Education must account like everyone else.

Makaneta said Equal Education as an NGO should not only fight for equality, but they must also obey the laws of the country by ensuring that the lives of the children under their care are protected.

“It cannot be correct that such a young life was lost whilst under the care of the NGO,” he said.

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