Maverick Citizen

Op-Ed

SA’s shame: Over 3,000 schools with pit latrines – almost 500 in Limpopo alone

LIMPOPO, SOUTH AFRICA, MARCH 2: Pupils are forced to use toilets with no proper sanitation on March 2, 2016 at Makheala Primary School in Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo, South Africa. Makheala Primary School has a shortage of furniture. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

With every day that Limpopo MEC for Education, Polly Boshielo, fails to show commitment to complying with the law, children are at risk of being hurt or dying in pit latrines.

“The state of sanitation at my school is bad. The toilets are dirty and we cannot use them as they are not safe. Toilets should be built properly to ensure the safety of learners. We cannot even celebrate the importance of World Toilet Day because we have toilets that are not up to standard.” – Betty Mothapo, Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education) from Limpopo.

“The condition of our toilets is not satisfying at all. Most learners don’t feel free of using the toilets as they have cracks and some don’t have all the needed walls. This is a problem as they use the bushes. I was not aware of  World Toilet Day.” – Principal at a Limpopo school (name withheld for fear of victimisation).

Toilets in my school are in good shape, clean and safe. Just one problem: they are not enough for all the learners at school.” – Mpho Kgobe, Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education), Limpopo.

The latest report from the department of basic education (DBE) on the state of school infrastructure in South Africa shows that there are 3,164 schools that have pit toilets only. 

The National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report for 2020 also says there are 472 schools in Limpopo where there are no bathroom facilities other than pit toilets.

While there has been progress with the delivery of school infrastructure, as reflected by Mpho Kgobe, it has been very slow. 

Many learners across the country, particularly in rural provinces, still have to rely on toilets that are unlawful, unsafe and do not provide privacy or promote health and hygiene. 

This is despite the adoption of the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure Act in 2013, after years of tireless campaigning by Equal Education (EE) members (learners, post-school youths, teachers and parents). 

This law defines the infrastructure conditions that each public school must meet, and provides deadlines by which schools must be provided with this infrastructure. 

Within three years of the publication of the Norms and Standards, by 29 November 2016: 

–        All structures in schools made of inappropriate materials such as mud, asbestos, metal or wood should have been replaced.

–        Schools with no access to water, electricity or toilets should have been provided with these basic services. Plain pit latrines are banned. 

Within seven years, by 29 November 2020 (this Sunday): 

–        All schools must be provided with an adequate supply of classrooms, electricity, water, and sanitation.

–        Electronic connectivity and perimeter security must be provided to all schools. 

There are also deadlines for 2023 and 2030 that the government must comply with.

EE has been campaigning for access to safe and proper toilets in schools in Limpopo since 2015, with a special focus on ensuring that learners in the province do not have to use pit toilets. 

On this year’s World Toilet Day, (19 November 2020), we continued to highlight the struggle for safe and dignified toilets for learners in Limpopo and across South Africa.

The Covid-19 pandemic amplified ongoing sanitation challenges facing schools.  

Although schools in Limpopo have been facing serious  problems for years, the Limpopo department of education (LDoE) has failed to get rid of these backlogs and comply with the law and its deadlines. 

In 2017 we (EE) released a report, Dikolo Tsa Go Hloka Seriti, which investigated water and toilet issues in 18 schools in Ga-Mashashane in Limpopo. We found that of these schools, 11 had only plain pit latrines as a form of toilet and four schools had no access to water. 

Covid-19 highlighted the painful consequences of the government’s failure to provide schools with basics such as clean water and safe toilets. 

To try to ensure that schools reopened safely, national and provincial education departments put in place temporary fixes by providing mobile toilets and water tankers to schools. But these are short-term solutions to long-standing problems.

The government consistently finds ways of cheating learners out of their right to basic education. The latest cuts made to the education budget by finance minister Tito Mboweni serve as a case in point. 

These cuts will have a  deep impact on the water and toilet situation in Limpopo. The R2.2-billion that was meant for infrastructure in the province needs to be brought back!

In January 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape died when he fell into a pit latrine in Limpopo. 

As part of the Polokwane High Court’s  judgment in the Komape case, the court included what is called a structural order, which means government must fix toilets in all schools in the province. 

EE, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), is involved in the case as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in support of the Komape’s case (the Komapes are represented by SECTION27).

Every day that Limpopo MEC Polly Boshielo fails to show commitment to complying with the law, means that other children are at risk of being hurt or even dying in pit latrines.

As EE learner member (Equaliser) from Limpopo, Griffith Manamela, told us: “In my school we have many types of toilets. Some are in good condition and some are not. The toilets that learners use are old and not safe.” DM

Tebogo Tsesane is a junior organiser at Equal Education (EE), and Sibongile Teffo is an EE community leader.

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