As Anto and Guy Itamba Mpianzi arrived at the school hall at Kensington Secondary School in Johannesburg on Saturday morning, surrounding by relatives, friends and education department officials, the weeks of grieving were evident on their faces.
In mid-January, their 13-year-old son Enock’s body was found washed down the Crocodile river, having drowned while on his school orientation camp.
The new Parktown Boys’ High School pupil had been taken along with the rest of his grade 8 class to the Nyati Bush and Riverbreak camp in the North West, and it was during a water activity that the pupil went missing.
Two weeks later, Anto and Guy sat in the front of the school hall, preparing for the funeral service where they would bid a final farewell to their child. At first stone-faced as officials greeted them and relatives tried to comfort them, it was only as Enock’s maroon coffin was brought into the hall that the pair lost their composure.
Anto broke down in tears, holding her face in her hands, while Guy began breathing heavily, his chest heaving as the wailing and praise-singing behind them grew louder. As Reverend John Lukusa’s rendition of Amazing Grace filled the hall, Anto was unable to stand as she quietly wept.
In his sermon, Reverend Ada Dienga, the Mpianzi family’s priest, told the congregation of the teenager’s “quiet but observant” nature. He said he had known Enock through each of the stages of his short life.
“Enock was a ray of sunlight in his family’s life, we want to give him the send-off he deserves,” said Dienga.
He referred to the circumstances behind Enock’s death, how even though the child was reported missing by his classmates, it allegedly took a day before a proper search was started by officials at the camp and the school staff. “We need to develop a culture of love and care … We have to care for those around us,” he said, to the vocal agreement of the funereal crowd.
“We need to get involved in people’s lives … we need to be involved in our children’s lives,” he said.
When Guy took the stage to start the series of eulogies, he quietly voiced how he could never have prepared himself for the terrible situation he had found himself in: the loss of one of his four children. “He had so many plans for the future … Enock I love you with all my heart, I will seek peace like you wished, I will never let you down,” he said.
His brother Mordocai said it was only at the pupil’s memorial service this week that he understood Enock’s final words to their mother. “I never slept the whole night, I couldn’t wait for this day to come,” the 13-year-old had told his mother in their last communication while he was on the camp.
“He somehow knew he would be returning to heaven, returning to God,” he said, asking that his brother watch over the family and “enjoy (himself) in heaven”.
But it was Enock’s other brother, Yves Kadilo, who was adamant that Enock’s school was to blame for the tragedy. The family, he said, had sent Enock to the upmarket school thinking he would come out a “better part of society”.
But, Kadilo continued, after being placed into the hands of those who were supposed to protect him, Enock was let down by “people who did not act responsibly”. He begged the school to stop taking children on such camps, with activities they are not familiar with.
“All I want is justice for you,” he said.
The teenager’s aunt, Sandra Boketshu, was only able to speak one sentence before she fainted. “Enock was not just my nephew, he was my friend,” she said, before having to be carried away from the podium.
Last week, Gauteng education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi revealed during a media conference that the school had failed to secure permission to take the children on the leadership camp, but the administration had chosen to ignore this and continue anyway.
Representing the Gauteng provincial government in Lesufi’s place at the funeral proceedings on Saturday, community safety MEC Faith Mazibuko explained that a full forensic investigation was under way to probe the circumstances surrounding the young boy’s death.
“The recommendations (in the final report) will be implemented without fail,” she said, saying that she hoped the tragedy would allow the department to “fill the gaps” in the education department’s policies to protect learners.
She said the incident had forced the education department to relook at its extramural policies in particular.
Family friend Jean Bwasa said Enock, a South African born of Congolese parents, represented the general attitude towards “the African child”.
“I wish to convey this message to … President Cyril Ramaphosa: he will be spearheading the African Union, but I see no African Union,” he said.
Bwasa said there was now no way for Enock to speak out against the “gross negligence” that led to his death, and that Enock should be a reminder that no child should die under such circumstances.
He called on Parktown Boys to launch a bursary programme in the child’s honour, as a reminder of how the system had failed him.
Representing the EFF was the party’s spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
As he was summoned to the stage, dozens of the party’s members in the audience erupted into song.
Ndlozi told the crowd the loss of a child was the key sign “that we as a people are negligent”. He argued the family had sent their child to Parktown Boys because it was a “better” school, but he was ultimately a casualty of a broken system.
He said black families were forced to take their children to be educated by “racists” — or what he described as schools with white management — because government had failed to maintain other schools or build new ones.
While the EFF members loudly agreed with Ndlozi’s speech, Enock’s parents just looked on, occasionally making eye contact with the speaker, but barely moving, Antu’s arms crossed as others in the hall screamed and waved their fists. It was only as Ndlozi concluded his speech that Guy offered a subdued clap.
Over the next few weeks, the Mpianzi family will be consulting with legal representatives — paid for by the EFF — over what is likely going to be a civil claim against the school and education department for the alleged negligence.