Maverick Citizen

SCATHING JUDGMENT

Court orders Limpopo education dept to devise workable plan for abolition of school pit toilets

Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet at his school. (Illustrative image: Section 27)

On Friday 17 September Judge Gerrit Muller ruled that the minister of basic education and MEC of the Limpopo Department of Education have 90 days to come up with a revised and detailed plan for the eradication of pit toilets in Limpopo schools. In a scathing judgment, Muller said that the department’s projection that it would only be able to do this over 14 years was ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unconstitutional’.

“The dignity of many learners are seriously impaired when they have to use these facilities. It cannot be countenanced. Another unfortunate and tragic death of a child at school due to dangerous pit toilets will be a catastrophe which should be avoided at all costs,” reads part of Judge Gerrit Muller’s judgment.

On 6 August, civil society organisation SECTION27, representing the Komape family, appeared in the Polokwane high court arguing that the Limpopo Department of Education’s plan to eradicate pit toilets in schools by 2030 was ‘unconstitutional and unreasonable’. 

Michael Komape’s family have been seeking justice since he was drowned on 20 January 2014 – in a pit toilet at his school in Chebeng Village in Polokwane. He was five years old

Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet at his school in Limpopo. (Image: Supplied)

The organisation said that they were “seeking an order, declaring that the LDOE (Limpopo Department of Education) and DBE’s (Department of Basic Education) plans were unconstitutional and in breach of the structural order. We requested the court to direct the Member of the Executive Council  (“MEC”) in the Limpopo Department of Education to remedy the shortcomings of the plan to ensure that it is constitutionally compliant and file a revised plan in both physical and electronic format with the Court within 45 days. We requested that the Court retain its supervisory jurisdiction in relation to this updated plan.

In 2018 Judge Muller granted a structural order stating that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga and MEC of the Limpopo Department of Education come up with a proper costed plan, based on recommendations by experts, for the eradication of unsafe sanitation infrastructure in schools, after the death of six-year-old Michael Komape who drowned in human excrement after falling into a dilapidated pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary school in Chebeng, Limpopo.

In May 2020 the department submitted a plan stating that, based on the availability of funds, it would take 14 years for them to be able to provide safe sanitation for learners.

“The proposed 14 year period is unduly long. The rights of the children attending school presently are being ignored… It is not business as usual. The replacement of pit toilets is a national emergency and must be treated accordingly,” said Muller.

Muller went on to state in the judgment that learners are the most vulnerable members of society and that their interests are safeguarded by section 28 of the constitution. 

“We welcome the judgment, it is once again a vindication of the rights of learners to safe and dignified sanitation. The high court has once again granted us the opportunity to return to court if we are dissatisfied with progress on the eradication of pit toilets. We intend to double down on our efforts to monitor progress in this regard. We will not stop until pit toilets in schools are a relic of the past,” said Faranaaz Veriava, SECTION27’s head of its education rights programme.

DM/MC

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All Comments 5

  • I’m reminded of that pathetic ‘What have I done wrong’ from an erstwhile president who led the pack on State Capture. This is what you have done wrong: pit latrines. Each time a government leader sold off the oil reserves, signed a shady PPE deal, falsely committed to replacing asbestos roofs, or sold out the country they perpetuated conditions where children drown in faeces. This is what you have done wrong. Now look the other way if you can. Will someone stand up and say, ‘Not on my watch’.

  • Remember that Michael Kompape drowned in a BROKEN pit toilet. The article above says “dilapidated”, a euphemism for broken. Pit toilets are inherently and technically a viable rural option for disposal of shit. They work – as long as they are maintained.

    The HUGE problem with the above judgement is that flush toilets depend on a supply of water. As we have read in numerous Daily Maverick articles a reliable supply of water throughout South Africa is a pipedream. I can guarantee that when flush toilets are installed, the water supply will fail and the the pupils will have to shit in the bushes.

    • I have used self-composting toilets built for semi-rural state schools in Mpumalanga, and they are safe, with no odour and use no water. Provided that the Limpopo Education Department secures this solution without corrupt escalation of costs, there is no reason why they should not be able to build the brick structure and have the toilets installed in the foreseeable future. It just demands political will and strict oversight.

      • What you say is eminently true … but for the authority figures in education who make the decisions … it requires too much effort ! They are like the supply of useless ‘foggers’ by a totally corrupt (because it would involve cancellation of orders) IEC for the upcoming elections, they are more interested in who gets the ‘digital vibes’ … if you get my beat ! The never ending chain of graft has to be challenged !