- Woman dies after trying to save child from electrocution
- BPC refuses to take responsibility
- BPC wants to disown its sanctioned report
- The report puts blame on BPC’s subcontractor
- Attorney Tebogo Sebego fighting for the family pro bono
On the 28th January 2014 at around 6pm, two members of the public, a mother and her daughter, were electrocuted at their residence in Gabane village at Gasiko ward.
The mother died instantly while the child sustained injuries and was transported to Princess Marina hospital. The cause of the injuries was a laundry line wire which accidentally came into contact with a damaged underground 16mm Airdac service cable supplying electricity to the deceased’s yard. At the time of her death, the mother, Onkemetse Mosimane, was thirty-one (31) years of age while her daughter was nine (9) years old. The deceased was exposed to electrical shock for more than 30 minutes while tenants were frantically trying to stop the electrical discharge and not knowing how to rescue the deceased and the injured.
The details of the incident were captured in a ‘‘Fatal Accident Investigation Report’’ sanctioned by the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and carried out by a panel of six investigators led by Corporate Risk Manager Joseph Phalalo. The terms of reference for the investigating panel were to investigate the circumstances that led to, and cause of the accident and subsequent fatal injuries to Onkemetse Mosimane and injures to her daughter.
The panel was further tasked to establish the culpability and/or liability or otherwise of any person, or employee of the Corporation, or of other stakeholders, with regard to causes of, and circumstances surrounding the accident. The report forms part of bulky documents filed before the Lobatse High Court in a case that has pitted BPC against a family that is struggling to come to terms with the death of their mother in Gabane.
Gaborone-based attorney Tebogo Sebego has been fighting for justice on behalf of the Mosimane family for the past four years and despite the Investigation report alleging that BPC and its subcontracted company, ABB (Pty) Limited, were at fault. The Corporation has assembled a team of South African advocates to absolve it from any liability. Sebego, who is providing legal services for the Mosimane family pro bono (free of charge), is trying to get BPC to pay Mosimane’s children (5 of them) damages of loss of support, damages for pain and suffering as well as medical expenses in respect of the injured child. It has however been a long walk to justice with no prospects of the case coming to conclusion any time soon because of BPC’s endless amendments to pleas in court, which on legal technicalities and have caused considerable delay in concluding the proceedings.
BPC approached before the High Court with a special plea arguing that it is protected in terms of Section 17(2) of the Botswana Power Corporation (Electricity) Bye-laws promulgated by Statutory Instrument No.123 of 1979 which reads that ‘BPC shall not be under any liability in respect of any wiring or other work for or for any loss or damage caused by fire or other accident arising wholly or partly from the condition of electrical installation’.
Attorney Sebego however successfully convinced High Court Judge Nthomiwa Nthomiwa that BPC was misdirecting itself in their interpretation of Section 17(2), and ordered that ‘‘the disputes should be referred to trial to enable the parties to call evidence’’. Judge Nthomiwa dismissed BPC’s special plea with costs and the case is set for trial in May 2019.
The ‘‘Fatal Accident Investigation Report’’, which was commissioned around February 2014, just a month after the accident, reveals that BPC’s only gesture of benevolence was a contribution of P10,000 towards Mosimane’s funeral expenses and P5,000 for medical expenses of her daughter arising from the injuries sustained from the incident. The investigators interviewed at least twelve witnesses who included among others, Mosimane’s neighbours, area councillor, BPC electricians and ABB Director.
According to the report, which BPC now claims is not binding them and does not create an obligation to pay the deceased’s family, the accident occurred while Mosimane’s nine-year-old daughter was playing with other children in the yard when she tripped over the steel wire lying on the ground. When she tried to remove it she received an electric shock and screamed for help. The report indicates that the late Mosimane, on hearing her child screaming went outside to investigate. In an effort to rescue her child, she was electrocuted by the laundry wire, which caused her death. Mosimane and her daughter remained stuck to the laundry wire for thirty minutes until they were rescued from contact by a neighbour using a broom stick.
The investigation panel established and concluded that the accident was caused by among others, the damaged underground airdac cable which energized the laundry line wire which was secured against the roof rafter, but had made contact with the corrugated iron roof. Motherly instincts kicked in and Mosimane came into contact with the line when she tried to rescue her daughter who was at the time crying for help due to the electric shock, the report explains.
‘‘It is highly probable that the service cable was damaged during excavation by ABB when they were servicing the adjacent plot belonging to Mr Ganetsang, in October 2013. The panel therefore concluded that ABB should be held liable for the damaged cable as they excavated alongside the cable supplying the deceased yard’’, the report reads in part.
The investigators pointed out that they interviewed ABB staff members who were involved in providing a service connection to Mr Ganetsang’splot. “ABB Managing Director stated before the panel that it was possible that his teams could have damaged the cable during excavations and advised that we should provide details of the victims of the accident so that he may notify his Insurance Underwriters for third party’’, Phalalo and his fellow investigators wrote in their report.
They also submitted that, ‘’in view of the above background, it is the panel’s considered view that ABB teams did not exercise due care and attention during excavation works alongside the underground service cable supplying the deceased yard’’. During fault finding by the BPC repair team, the voltage measured on the laundry line was 223 volts, suggesting that the laundry line was electrically charged.
‘‘During interviews the tenants within the yard where the deceased was staying had attested to the fact that they experienced electric shocks when touching the laundry line’’, the report reveals. The panel could not find the damaged piece of cable which was cut off as it was ‘‘misplaced by the BPC repair crew’’. However, the panel managed to salvage the insulation material of the said piece, which showed signs of burns. The team concluded that possible causes of the accident were lack of due care and attention during excavation works by ABB teams to provide an underground service connection to Moswela Ganetsang’s plot and further observed that inadequate public awareness on electrical safety played a major part on the severity of the accident. The investigators held ABB liable and held that ‘‘ABB had to remove the initially buried cable alongside the underground service cable supplying the deceased in order to use a shorter route to service the neighbour’s house’’.