The day of fun at Nyandeni Primary School on December 12 ended in misery for the Tshabalala family, when a horrific injury left nine-year-old Melokuhle Tshabalala paralyzed. And now the school and the Department of Basic Education in Mpumalanga have refused to tell his father what happened or share video footage and the school’s report of the incident with the family. .
An excited Melokuhle, a 3rd grader, left home with his favorite Puma trainers to return knowing he’ll probably never walk again, after spending seven weeks first in the provincial government hospital in Standerton, then to Witbank General Hospital fighting for his life. . Two of those weeks were spent in the intensive care unit.
Melokuhle and other students were queuing to wait for food when a large tree fell, says his father Nkosana Tshabalala, 42, trapping and eventually paralyzing Melokuhle. The school initially said it would involve Tshabalala in writing a report on the incident, but then backtracked on its promise to share the video and final report. The principal said the school is not allowed to share this material as the matter is now in the hands of provincial department lawyers.
“I gave them a USB stick to put the video on. But when I went there…they told me they couldn’t share it with me anymore, that the department had forbidden them to release any information,” Tshabalala explains.
He does not know who took his son to Standerton Hospital. He “received a call [from the school] around 10:30-11 a.m.,” telling him that a tree had fallen and that children had been injured.
From school to hospital
Tshabalala, who had two children in Nyandeni – Mpilwenhle, 8, and Melokuhle – rushed to school. She was not told that her son had been injured.
When he got there, he couldn’t find Melokuhle. He spoke to his class teacher, Ms. Madi. “Because I was told that when the tree fell some children scattered and ran away, I wanted her to check if Melokuhle ran away with the other children,” says Tshabalala. But the teacher didn’t know.
Tshabalala took his daughter with him to look for Melokuhle. In the car, Mpilwenhle told her that other students were making fun of her because “her brother was stuck under a tree”.
“It was only then that I learned what had happened to my child… Ngehliy’nyembezi (tears were streaming down my face), and I wondered why the school was lying to me about it. that had happened,” he said.
He was driven to the hospital and was met by a teacher, who told him to go identify the injured child. “I immediately knew it was Melokuhle because when I walked in they showed me his shoes.”
Doctors at Standerton Hospital first treated Melokuhle. But after about “four hours” he was taken to Witbank Hospital by ambulance as he was in too bad a condition to be airlifted, Tshabalala said. He followed the ambulance and for several days in November and December he became a familiar face in the hospital.
“I drove every day to see him, until the hospital stopped allowing visits,” says Tshabalala. This is when the Omicron variant caused a further increase in Covid cases. Unable to enter the department and without access to his son’s doctor and nurses, it was the head of the hospital department who called him to tell him that “the child’s bottom is paralyzed”, that the he child is now a “paraplegic”.
Melokuhle has not been to school since it opened on January 12. The school is not wheelchair friendly and his injury has not healed yet. “My child’s injury hurts me a lot. Now he is a toddler again… Sometimes he can’t even sleep because of unbearable pain,” says Melokuhle’s mother, Sibongile Msimango, 34.
Msimango says Melokuhle asks her and her father to go back to school all the time. And they tell him that he will go when he is healed. “But then he asks again, ‘When?’ And I usually don’t have an answer.
She is also worried about her child’s mental health. “Going to school will also help him not to think too much. Lately he’s been quiet for a long time, and you can tell he’s lost in thought.
Tshabalala says the school board chairman, Mr Madela, has promised to get Melokuhle study materials that he can use to learn from home until he can return to school. It is a promise that has never been kept.
After the daily sun The newspaper published a report on Melokuhle’s injury at the end of January, the psychologist and the school principal came to see the family and promised to help Melokuhle continue his studies. Once again, this is a promise that has not been kept.
Tshabalala asked the prefecture of Gert Sibande to intervene, after going “from pillar to post” to try to find out what had happened to his son. But they didn’t help. He spoke by telephone with the director of education, Mr. Phako, who promised to come to the school for a fact-finding mission.
But Phako never returned to Tshabalala to share his findings or the report the school had submitted to the department. Tshabalala drove about 100 km to Ermelo to speak to Phako, “but now when I came to him he said he couldn’t help anymore,” Tshabalala says. Phako said he could not comment because the matter was with the ministry.
At Nyandeni Primary School, the principal and deputy principal were visibly hostile. They wouldn’t say how the accident happened, how Melokuhle got out from under the tree, or how he got to the hospital. They declined to say why they wouldn’t show his father the footage of the incident, or why they wouldn’t let Tshabalala participate in, or even show him, the report that was sent to the department.
Mpumalanga Department of Education spokesman Jasper Zwane said he was aware of what happened in Melokuhle. But he denied that the department banned the school from showing Tshabalala the footage or the report.
He also said the school was justified in responding to questions with hostility, as every question about incidents in Mpumalanga public schools should be put to him and not the school concerned. But not everyone is bound by this “gatekeeper” policy.
Zweli “ZB” Sibeko, who has been a member of the school’s board of trustees since April 2021, says the tree incident could have been avoided if a welfare and safety committee had been created in time. . He says he spoke about the tree in many meetings. Although his initial concern was that it obstructed the view of security cameras, a welfare and safety committee would have anticipated other dangers, he says.
Sibeko adds that at least three days before the incident, there was a big storm in Standerton. He says it’s possible the tree was disturbed at the time and footage from that day should be able to show it. “And it’s an old tree. It was there in 1952 when my parents went to this school. There had to be problems.
“What really worries me is that the school decides to call this issue a ‘natural disaster’ when they’ve spoken to the parent… It will be a problem if the parent doesn’t do something about it now,” explains Sibeko.
Melokuhle’s parents are doing something about it. Tshabalala and Msimango say they think the school was negligent and hiding something. They hired attorney Tony Mathe.
Mathe, who did not give details, said, “We are working on justice for Melokuhle, despite being threatened by department attorneys.
“The treatment we have received from department attorneys is nothing short of disrespectful and [undermines] our authority. We can confirm that legal action has been taken, but await final correspondence to clarify. Justice for Melokuhle is certain. No matter how long it takes, his rights will be claimed.
Thiss the article was first published by New Frame.