…as 24-year struggle for compensation by Mafura siblings who lost their mother to electrocution sees no end
Twenty-four years on, the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) continues to decline compensating the Mohale’s Hoek-based Mafura siblings who lost their mother through electrocution in December 1994.
The parastatal company only gave Rethabile (31) and Khosi Mafura (28) the very same electrical pole that killed their mother to use it to make fire during her funeral.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism discovered recently that despite numerous recommendations by Ombudsman, LEC had stood grounds it was not responsible for the death of ’Mateboho Ratšoane (née Nkhathatseng Mafura).
Ms Mafura was electrocuted while she came into contact with electricity current from the pole and died at the spot, on unclear date in December 1994.
The pole had fallen close to a path, which Mafura crossed at the time she caught the live current, following heavy storms that rocked Ha-Maphohloane community in Mohale’s Hoek, a few days earlier.
She was walking with some children who fortunately escaped death but closely witnessed the ordeal.
The Centre has learnt from documented evidence at the office of Ombudsman that the villagers had reported to LEC in Mohale’s Hoek, and warned the company to urgently remove the pole two days before it electrocuted Mafura, as it already posed danger to passers-by, but the company had failed to do so.
The company argues in its correspondence with Ombudsman that the fateful incident was an “act of God, and any claim would be nothing but enrichment attempt which LEC can unfortunately not entertain.”
In an interview with the Centre this week, the LEC Risk Manager Matšeliso Moremoholo said the company’s compensation policy provided for an article on public liability, “which caters for incidents whereby consumer’s property has been electrocuted or damaged as a result of power problems”.
The same article, Ms Moremoholo said, also covered claims of persons electrocuted.
“All claims regarding damaged property and electrocuted people are supposed to be registered with the company. LEC then makes its own investigations before any compensation is made,” she said.
In reference to the Mafura case, Moremoholo sad the Ombudsman’s determination was submitted to the LEC management who in turn presented the claims before the company’s board of directors.
“The matter had since been referred to the board. It has not been finalised as it awaits the board’s decision,” she said.
Meanwhile, the evidence from Ombudsman shows that during the funeral, the LEC representatives who joined mourners pledged to the grieving family that the company would take care of school needs for the deceased’s children, Rethabile and Khosi, who were then only seven and four years old, respectively.
But this did not happen, Ombudsman heard.
In her submission before Ombudsman, Rethabile narrated how her mother had been electrocuted by the pole somewhere in December 1994.
Fifteen years later, in 2008, Rethabile reported the LEC’s negligence and injustice to her family to the Ombudsman.
She explained even though she still young during her mother’s death, she vividly remembered the LEC staff at the funeral promising that the family would be compensated and that children’s school needs would be paid for by the company.
According to the letter of response from LEC to Ombudsman, dated May 27 2018, the company’s corporate services manager, only identified in the documents as Mr Jimson, noted amongst other things that circumstances surrounding Mafura’s death seemed not to have been reported with the company’s insurance.
However, Jimson noted that: “The LEC will investigate the matter and will include in its investigations the complainant’s maternal and step father’s families with the hope that something tangible will be found”.
Outlining the company’s investigations in a document branded ‘Maphohloane Report,’, LEC stated that: “In December 1994, a storm or strong winds damaged LEC power lines which led to fatal electrocution of Mrs Ratšoane née Ms Nkhathatseng”.
“The incident happened approximately 15 years ago. Enquiries have been made as to whether an ex-gratia payment or not and that no person either at LEC or Ratšoane family have clearly showed no interest in the issue. This suggested that some mutual understanding was reached between the deceased’s family and LEC.”
The LEC describes a strong attendance of its staff members at the funeral as an indication that circumstantially, form of mutual understanding between the company and the deceased’s family was reached.
The report, however, refutes Rethabile’s claims saying no negligence could be attributable to LEC.
The company says from its legal stand point, “no legal claim can arise as what happened to the deceased was a clear indication of force majeure (an act of God)”.
It therefore argues “further that any claim would be nothing but enrichment attempt which LEC can unfortunately not entertain.”
The Maphohloane report has highlighted the following findings:
- It was obvious Ms Mafura was electrocuted.
- Two LEC staff members also advised that they clearly remembered there was once such a case but knew nothing further. These are Mr Kaile who was working in LEC Mohale’s Hoek then, and Mr Molise who is still working at LEC in Mohale’s Hoek.
- No claim seems to have been made as nothing could be traced regarding this case and consequently no compensation seems to have been made.
- The cause of death was live line which was destroyed by strong winds and this does not seem to have been due to negligence on the part of LEC.
- Nobody seems to care whether compensation was made or can be made. This was obvious at the meeting where Mafura family unanimously agreed that Ms Rethabile Mafura should pursue the matter and that LEC should continue to communicate everything related to this case to her.
- It was expected that the Ratšoane family will be the one demanding compensation but this is not the case. Not a single member of this family attended the meeting. Legally this is not right.”
- The Ombudsman regarded to LEC’s communication of 2010 to December 201, where they advanced reasons for denying liability, as belated submission and that the company’s findings were not satisfactory.
During the inquiry, Ombudsman had advised LEC to peruse their files and check whether any claim had never been made. On February 17, 2011, LEC reported to Ombudsman that there was no trace of any claim made.
In one of the subsequent meetings between LEC and Ombudsman, the company offered a shake-off of a M10 000 in the meeting held on October 17, 2011.
The company claimed that it was not liable to the electrocution and death of Ms Mafura but “being a decent corporate organisation” it could only make it to M10 000 worth compensation for both Rethabile and her brother Khosi.
Rethabile in 2011 was in school somewhere overseas where she communicated with the Ombudsman through an email.
In this email, and throughout the investigations, she has been consistent that she and Khosi have been painfully affected by the ordeal of their mother because their grandmother literally did not have any means of providing for them therefore they were suffering.
At some point Ombudsman resolved to seeking parliament intervention on the standoff.
In the “Special Report to Parliament by the Ombudsman” tabled in the National Assembly on August 31 2018, the Ombudsman made a clear indication that the power pole bearing live electricity that killed Ms Mafura belonged to LEC.
The Ombudsman therefore settled that the power pole bearing live electricity belonged to LEC “notwithstanding that nature brought it down.”
In the report, Ombudsman concluded that the deceased’s children suffered loss “caused by the wrongful act of LEC in 1994.”
He went on to indicate that because both children depended on their mother for support and maintenance, “whoever caused her death is liable to compensate them for that loss throughout their minority status.”
The report indicates that unlike Rethabile who went as far as tertiary education level through doing some domestic work to pay for her fees until she got sponsorship, her brother Khosi had to drop out at Form B due to financial constraints.
The Ombudsman therefore recommended in 2014 that LEC should compensate the siblings to the total sum of M392 000 in respect of the loss of upbringing and care is based on average household expenditure.
Since April 22, 2014 when the Ombudsman gave LEC ultimatum to have compensated Rethabile and within 7 months, LEC remained silent until the matter was tabled before the National Assembly on August 31, 2018 for intervention.
“It would seem it was undisputed fact that the company did nothing about the pole to eliminate the source of danger, therefore they cannot deny liability,” this becomes the ombudsman’s position that the LEC was indeed negligent as the pole took two days before it could be removed.
“What I saw from Rethabile’s letter of complaint and LEC records availed to my office is that the pole lay for more than two days after the storm ‘when God made it fall’”, noted the Ombudsman.
According to ‘Maphohloane report, community members mentioned that the same LEC pole had on the previous night injured another person before it could kill Nkhathatseng.
The report specified that LEC made no reaction to Rethabile’s complaints until June 22, 2012 when an investigator from the Ombudsman office was told by LEC to advise Rethabile and his brother Khosi to make a claim so that LEC could reconsider the ex-gratia (M10 000) it had offered before.
The report further notes that everything went silent until May 2, 2013 when the former LEC Managing Director Mbele Hoohlo personally delivered the letter to the office of the Ombudsman indicating an increase of M10 000 to make the ex-gratia offer M20 000.
Mr Hoohlo claimed that LEC offered M20 000 as compensation to both the deceased’s children because LEC didn’t have a financial muscle for any further adjustments and that the company was compensating out of compassion.
“I feel that M20 000 is mockery considering me and my brother’s loss,” Rethabile said in the report when responding to what Mr Hoohlo delivered and did not accept it.
The Ombudsman insisted what has been the content of LEC responses to their investigations was contained largely in what I referred to as ‘the Maphohloane Report’. However, what has surprised me is that from 2008 up to early 2011, the LEC has been holding on to this report and never bothered to submit it to the Ombudsman as Mr Jimson had promised.”
To date, the report notes that LEC failed to show if it had asked LEC Mohale’s Hoek employees what promises were made to Mafura or Ratšoane families.
“This is odd considering that, through LEC Mr Jimson the company had said it will embark on its own investigations,” notes the Ombudsman in the report.
According to the Ombudsman, there is absolutely no reason for LEC to rely on Mafura and Ratšoane families’ lack of interest in demanding compensation.
He went on to explain that he does not see where the interests of Mafura and Ratšoane have to do with the interests of the deceased’s children.
“If it is a legal interest to demand compensation, a failure by any of the said families to do so, does not bar Rethabile, the complainant in this matter to demand compensation.”
“It is common cause that the deceased had two children not begotten at the Ratšoane family. LEC reported that in the Maphohloane report, but when this family showed no interest to claim compensation, LEC simply said ‘legally this is just not right’.”
“In short, legally the locus standi and legal rights of Rethabile and her brother different from those of the two families in 1994 and thereafter.”
Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA) Shoao Khatala told MNNCIJ that the Lesotho Electricity Authority Act of 2002 doesn’t cover issues of compensation.
“We don’t have powers to measure damage. LEC has internal compensation policy and would be in a better position to discuss the processes taken for the company to compensate on issues of negligence,” Mr Khatala said.