South Africa

Schools Without Dignity: Lessons of Michael Komape’s death not learnt by Limpopo education department

By Orateng Lepodise 5 December 2017

Details of the tragic death of Michael Komape have been aired in court over the past weeks, shocking the country. Aged 5, Michael drowned in a pit latrine at his rural school in Polokwane, Limpopo. It appears though that his undignified death has not served as a wake-up call – the provincial education department has still failed to provide proper water and sanitation and infrastructure in its schools. By ORATENG LEPODISE.

The Limpopo department of education continues to have water, sanitation and infrastructure problems in its schools.

Equal Education (EE) released a reported titled Dikolo Tsa Go Hloka Seriti (School Without Dignity) last week. The report was based on water and sanitation and infrastructure problems in 18 schools in rural Limpopo.

The report was based on an investigation by EE that was conducted following claims by the Limpopo department of education and the national Department of Basic Education that progress had been made.

In November 2016 the national department published reports by provincial departments about their infrastructure plans for their schools, but Equal Education claimed that the data used by the Limpopo education department was unreliable and did not match reality.

According to the statistics regarding the provision of sanitation in the 18 schools they visited, the EE found that:

  • Four schools had access to water and 14 schools had no water access.
  • None of those schools had soap.
  • None of the schools had sanitary bins.
  • Two schools had toilet paper and the remaining 16 had no toilet paper.

In June 2016 the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS), which is published annually by the DBE, stated that there were (supposedly) zero schools in Limpopo with no water supply, zero schools without access to sanitation, and 941 schools that must have pit latrines alone as toilets. This is the report that the EE subsequently disputed.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) also released a report in July 2016. They found that there were eight schools with no access to water. The report noted that this was due to the drought as a number of boreholes have dried up and the schools had indicated that they did not have access to water.

The CSIR report stated that a further eight schools had no access to sanitation, and 897 schools had pit latrines only.

According to the Schools Without Dignity report, the only types of sanitation technology that were encountered on their visit to the 18 schools were plain pit latrines, VIP pit latrines, and flush toilets.

The department had been warned against using pit latrines in 2004. Yet 10 years later, Michael Komape fell into a pit toilet and drowned at Mahlodumela primary school in Chebeng village. The Limpopo education department has appeared in the Polokwane High Court over the past few weeks in a damages case brought by Komape’s family.

During testimony, the court learnt that the province had spent R68,000 per new school toilet, but R2,000 was all it would have taken to improve the health and safety of an existing pit latrine.

A VIP pit latrine differs from a standard pit latrine in that it has a pipe extending from the pit to allow for better ventilation. VIP pit latrines are allowed by the Norms and Standards, but plain pit latrines are not,” said Equal Education.

Yet the EE found that 12 of the 18 schools that were visited only had plain pit latrine toilets. Five others had VIP pit latrines as well as plain pit latrines. One school, Mmatshipi Secondary, had four flush toilets for boy learners, but they were all broken and in a filthy condition.

It appears that the education department continues to have 99 problems and they can’t fix one. In 2013, Limpopo schools experienced a 0% matric pass rate; this is despite the fact that education receives the largest share of the national budget. In 2012 Limpopo also faced a crisis with delivery of textbooks; the problem caused chaos in South Africa’s education system. According to the Human Science Research Council, a major problem was cash flow. This had been caused by overpriced contracts and a high teachers’ salary budget the year before.

Nhlanhla Mabunda, who has just completed his matric at Milente High School – one of the 18 schools identified in the EE report – told Daily Maverick, “Our school only has two blocks, with no stuff, library or labs. It really affected us when we wrote our exams because we wrote in an over populated lab.”

Mabunda said that the lack of proper water and sanitation and good infrastructure at the school affected them, especially when writing their matric exams this year. “We suffered more in winter because we wrote in a class that had a broken window and ceiling; it was extremely cold that we couldn’t even concentrate,” said Mabunda.

Asked to comment on the latest EE report, Sam Makondo, the Limpopo department of education’s spokesperson, said the report was still being studied. “It is only fair for us to look at it thoroughly,” he said.

According to the Limpopo education department’s Norms and Standards report, the department allocates 20% from a R5.2-billion budget to address the water and sanitation problems in their schools.

Equal Education is a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members striving for quality and equality education. EE’s core members are “Equalisers” – high school activists from Grades 8 to 12. Along with teachers, parents and community members they build campaigns to effect change in their schools, and in the wider society.

At the beginning of 2011, EE members marched, picketed, petitioned, wrote countless letters to Minister Angie Motshekga, went door-to-door in communities, fasted, and slept outside Parliament. “On Human Rights Day of that year, we led a march of 20,000 EE members and supporters to Parliament to demand that Motshekga adopt the Norms and Standards,” said Equal Education.

The EE resorted to taking matters to court in 2012. Shortly before the case was to be heard, Motshekga settled and agreed to publish the Norms and Standards. She then missed the deadline, and EE returned to court to enforce her commitment.

On 29 November 2013, Motshekga complied with a court order and publicised legally binding Norms and Standards for infrastructure.

Equal Education said about their latest report on Limpopo: “Our analysis supports a demand for the LDoE (Limpopo education department) to implement stronger governance systems and internal controls in order for financial accountability and transparency to take root.” DM

Photo: This is the pit latrine that Michael Komape drowned in. This photo was taken by Charles Malebana shortly after the incident. It was admitted as evidence to the Polokwane High Court.


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