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Boy drowns in trench

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A grieving Warrenton family has blamed Magareng Municipality for the death of their seven-year-old child, Onthatile Mfeka, who drowned in a trench that was filled with water.

A seven-year-old boy drowned in a trench filled with water after municipal workers left it open after laying pipes. Picture: Supplied

A GRIEVING Warrenton family has blamed Magareng Municipality for the death of their seven-year-old child, Onthatile Mfeka, who drowned in a trench that was filled with water.

The trench was apparently dug by a service provider who was contracted by the municipality to replace the water pipes.

Onthatile died on Sunday, February 27 after he slipped and fell into the trench while he was busy looking for empty milk boxes to make into toy cars.

The family said that neither the contractor nor the municipality had ensured that the trenches, which are located near a residential area, were cordoned off or covered.

The aunt of the deceased, Maserame Mfeka, accused the municipality of being negligent.

She said the entire incident could have been avoided if the workers had simply taken some precautions.

“Onthatile and his nine-year-old cousin were busy playing. These trenches are in the residential area where we are staying. According to the nine-year-old child, he and Onthatile decided to go look for old milk cartons which they will convert into cars. As they were walking, Onthatile slipped and fell into the trenches.

“The nine-year-old child ran home and reported to us what had happened. We rushed to the scene and, to our surprise, there was no sign or cover to show residents to stay away from that area. My aunt immediately jumped into the water as she was able to swim.

“My aunt almost also drowned as the water was deeper than we first assumed. When she came out of the water she confirmed that the water was quite deep and that she was not able to find Onthatile.”

Maserame said they pleaded with local municipal workers to try and drain the water.

“The people started to assemble at the scene. There were municipal workers amongst the crowd. We asked the workers if they could help get that truck that sucks the water out. They refused and said they were off-duty. They said they were not working and just refused to help us even though they witnessed the situation.”

She said they alerted the police diving unit in Kimberley to assist in searching for the child.

“The divers from Kimberley came and assisted in the search for Onthatile. The divers took about three hours to arrive. One of the divers told us that the water was about 10 to 15 metres deep. When Onthatile was retrieved from the water, it was already too late,” she wept.

Another family member, Kedibone Thole, said the municipality needs to take responsibility for the death of the Grade 2 pupil.

“It is so heartbreaking to lose such a young child. We had so many hopes and dreams for him (Onthatile),” said Thole.

“We have been taking care of the child after his mother died just after giving birth to him. He has been such a joy to have around and we were all looking forward to what the future had in store for him.

“The Magareng Municipality needs to take full responsibility for the burial of Onthatile. They also need to ensure that another family does not suffer the same pain as us by ensuring that the place is covered. We wish this pain on nobody.”

Magareng municipal manager Ellen Moncho conveyed condolences to the grieving family.

Moncho said the project was initiated as an emergency maintenance project as the sewerage line in the area required urgent work.

“The municipality learned about the unfortunate accident and is saddened by the alleged drowning of a child in Ikhutseng,” said Moncho.

“The municipality initiated critical maintenance work on the main bulk sewerage outfall line in the vacant land on the right of the access road leading into Ikhutseng, where the incident occurred. This was an emergency project as the sewerage pipe is in a low-lying area and was a health risk that needed immediate intervention. The project was intended to be completed within 14 days and work started on January 27, 2022.”

Moncho added that some challenges were experienced which resulted in the project being delayed.

“After digging the trenches, we realised that there was underground water seeping into the dugouts. This caused major challenges for the project as envisaged because the trenches were continuously filling with water, which made it difficult to install the pipes. Additional help had to be sourced to help with the complication caused by the underground water. The municipality is still in talks with the appointed service provider in order to come up with the best possible way to resolve this matter.

“The appointed service provider took precautionary measures to warn people not to trespass by cordoning the area off with danger tape.”

Moncho said that representatives from the municipality have met with the family of the deceased.

“The municipality, represented by mayor Neo Mase and councillors, have met with the family to offer condolences and support.

“The municipality is aware that the police have opened an inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death and we therefore cannot propose any action or disclose any further information, subject to the investigation. We will provide our full co-operation to the investigation to ensure that the matter is prioritised and addressed speedily.”

Police spokesperson Captain Olebogeng Tawana said that the police have opened an inquest docket.

“It is alleged that the boy, who was in the company of his peers, was playing just in the vicinity of open trenches dug by the contractor. As they were playing, one of the objects they were playing with fell into the trench that had water. He went into the trench in an attempt to retrieve the object and drowned. The boy’s body was retrieved by the Kimberley SAPS diving unit. The investigation continues,” said Tawana.

Onthatile Mfeka

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