A BOY died. He had just been caned by his teacher. That was on March 14, 2008. The day had started normally. Francis Alithum, 15, woke up just in time to prepare for his lessons at Luzira Progressive Junior School, 200 metres away from his home.
â€œHe woke up, bathed and dressed up for school as usual. By 7:30am, he had left,â€ recalls, his father, Bernard Upenycan. Little did he know this was the last time he would ever see his son.
That afternoon, as Upenycan returned from lunch to his workplace, at Murchison Bay in Luzira Prisons, someone pulled him by the shirt and stopped him.
â€œCome on; letâ€™s go down to your childâ€™s school. There is something important,â€ the strange man told Upenycan.
The puzzled 51-year-old father followed the stranger to the school, only to meet the bombshell of his life: his son, Alithum, lying motionlessly in the back seat of a special hire taxi! â€œHe was dead!â€ Upenycan recollects and pauses.
The pause is so long that you are afraid the interview is over. He looks up, down and up again before rising to switch on the light in his room, even though the mid-morning sun is clearly streaming through the door.
â€œHe was deadâ€¦ how did it happen?â€ Upenycan asks for the fifth time, as he resumes his seat. He looks away again, but this time, his face betrays him â€“ tears well up in his eyes â€“ the eyes of a man who had not shed tears in years, by virtue of his job as an instructor for the traumatised Luzira prisoners.
At the school, nobody satisfactorily explained what actually befell Alithum. While the teachers insisted that he had suddenly fainted, the children who had been in class with him confided that one teacher, only identified as Bonny, caned him on the back, which made him collapse and die.
â€œIt was after lunch. We were debating and when the teacher told him to sit and he refused, he beat him twice on both sides of the back and he fell down. He couldnâ€™t move, anymore,â€ reveals a shaken former classmate.
Upenycan also narrates: â€œWhat annoyed me is that it was clear, he was dead, but the teachers insisted that he was only unconscious; that he had fainted. We went to the Family Clinic Kitintale, the nurses tried to do this and that, but one doctor said it was over. That was when we rushed to Mulago Hospital mortuary.â€
A March 18, 2008 postmortem report obtained by Saturday Vision shows that Alithum died of Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). It was signed by one pathologist Dr. Kidaga. A psychiatrist who prefers anonymity says the caning and pushing could have triggered an underlying heart problem.
But Saturday Vision also established that the school authorities secured a different postmortem report. It is dated February (instead of March) 14, 2008. It mentions heart failure as the cause of Alithumâ€™s death. It had the same pathologistâ€™s name, same patient, same stamp, but different date, handwriting and cause of death.
The distraught Upenycan is seeking legal redress. He has reported the case to Police under the file number â€œSD/33/14/03/08 Sudden Death, Kitintale Police Post.â€ Investigations are being handled by the CID at Jinja Road Police.
â€œOnly God will see me through. My son was not sick; he was healthy. In fact, the last time he was sick was in June 2007,â€ Upenycan says, displaying several medical documents. â€œThe teachers donâ€™t want to admit that they caned him, yet every child in this neighbourhood was telling the story to his or her parents.â€
Saturday Vision also established that the teacher who allegedly caned the child was arrested but released on bond. The Resident State Attorney is also reportedly studying the case.
â€œThat teacher was the stranger who pulled me by the shirt back to school,â€ Upenycan recalls.
Those who knew Alithum describe him as a hardworking boy. â€œHe always performed better than us in class,â€ a friend in P4 says. Class reports seen by Saturday Vision show that he always got distinctions in all subjects.
The Nebbi-borne Upenycan also has fond memories of his deceased son. â€œFifteen years (of age) may sound too big for a P4 pupil, but it doesnâ€™t matter. He started school very late because of some hurdles. There is no age in education.â€
Alithum was the second born in a family of three. His mother lives in Nebbi, while the other two boys live with their father in Luzira.
Luzira Kindergarten Centre and Progressive Junior School is located in Kisenyi, Luzira and is surrounded by homesteads, mainly small shacks or semi-permanent structures.
It is not registered as a primary school. It has three main blocks, with blue doors and windows and grey walls. The children are playing and running about the premises. The headteacher, Justine Ahimbisibwe, sits in a one-room office, chatting with her deputy, who only identifies himself as Joseph.
â€œYou media exaggerate things,â€ Joseph says when Saturday Vision asks if, indeed, Alithum was caned to death.
â€œThat boy was not beaten. He got convulsions, collapsed and had difficulty in breathing,â€ Joseph says.
But when pressed further, he admits that Alithum was â€œonly slightly beaten. One slight cane on the leg and another was on the back.â€
At this point, Ahimbisibwe interjects: â€œI was not around when it happened. But the true story is that he was only tapped, with a small stick which is as small as a pencil. But even then, he collapsed much later,â€ Ahimbisibwe says, picking a pencil up from her desk.
â€œIt was debating time, about 2:00pm. He was among the main speakers but he sat at the back. When teacher Bonny tapped on him and said move to the front, he stood up and then he collapsed. This is a big blow to us, because he was a brilliant and lovely boy.â€
Asked about the differing postmortem reports, Joseph insists that he got their copy from Mulago Hospital and it is authentic. â€œThe doctor discovered that it was due to cardiac failure.â€
He also denies claims that the boy died on spot. â€œBy the time the father arrived at the scene, he was having difficulty in breathing. And that is why I hurried to bring a special hire from the taxi stage; he died at Family Clinic, Kitintale.â€
But the clinicâ€™s Dr. Faustine Eria dismisses these claims as false. â€œItâ€™s not true. By the time they brought the boy, he was already dead. I donâ€™t know if he died on the way or at school. I advised them to take the body to Mulago for a postmortem,â€ he says.
What the ministry says
Aggrey Kibenge, the spokesperson says all disciplinary measures in the primary education sector have been decentralised.
â€œAll disciplinary action including interdiction and dismissal are made by the district service commission. A case must be made through the Chief Administrative Officer who is the accounting officer,â€ says Kibenge.
He, however, urges parents of the victims to seek legal redress. â€œThese are some offenses which are unquestionably criminal. Report to Police and they investigate. Nobody has a right to physically abuse a child, kill or defile. Anything that leads to death is criminal. The law will take its course,â€ says Kibenge.
Boy dies after being caned