PIT LATRINE DEATH
Angie Motshekga questions details of death of Langalam Viki, says police investigating
While the Department of Basic Education has admitted that not enough has been done to eradicate pit toilets and provide sustainable school sanitation, it says how Langalam Viki allegedly ended up in the tank of a senior toilet not appropriate for her remains a mystery that’s under investigation by the police.
“In the school where Langalam died, there was new proper sanitation. She did not die because we as the government had not replaced old toilets. What happened is there were old toilets that had not been demolished far away from the school and that is where she drowned… Maybe the question is why were those toilets not demolished?”
This was the question the Minister of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga raised during a Sunday media briefing on her department’s efforts to improve sanitation at public schools.
Previously Daily Maverick reported that four-year-old Langalam Viki seemingly fell into a pit toilet at her school in Vaalbank in the Eastern Cape and drowned. However, the department has said this is untrue.
“I wanted to clarify… she was not found in the pit latrine, she was found behind the toilet. Langalam was found in the tank of a senior toilet not appropriate for her and not in the pit side,” said Motshekga.
“There are still a lot of questions outstanding… She was even too young to lift the manhole, the manhole lid was removed and she would have never been able to remove the lid herself and that’s where the issue is.” She was also fully clothed Motshekga said, adding that this would not have been the case if the child had been relieving herself at the time of the incident.
According to Motshegka, the details of what transpired are still sketchy and are being investigated by the police.
She added that the DBE is continuously working on providing good sanitation infrastructure for schools:
“It might not be good enough but a lot has been done and continues to be done daily. You might recall when Lumka Mketwa died in a pit latrine in 2018, I said in a statement that Lumka had died in an undignified manner that I found incredibly disturbing. I added that, at the time, to know that as a sector we had not been able to address these infrastructure issues fast enough, for several reasons, broke my heart. I then promised that when a tragedy like this occurs, it made us more resolute about the continued need for the Accelerated School Infrastructure Initiative, then, so that we could continue to fast-track these schools that are in desperate need of infrastructure and make them safe havens for our children. Since the time I uttered those words, we have taken action on two fronts.
“We increased the technical capacity of officials in the infrastructure team by recruiting five built environment specialists, including a head of infrastructure, who are solely focused on implementing our infrastructure projects. Secondly, as you are aware, the President launched the Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) initiative to specifically address the infrastructure backlog in our schools.”
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Meanwhile, DBE director general Hubert Mathanzima Mweli reported that Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo remain hotspots of unsafe pit latrines.
Mweli said the department is monitoring the issues related to pit toilets across the provinces, but they are met with various issues in replacing them.
“In replacing inappropriate and unsafe structures, particularly with pit latrines it should not be understood as replacing pit latrines with reticulated toilets or facilities. There are parts of our country… where running water is a problem and boreholes do not offer the sustainable provision of water. We are now battling with a situation where we now have to move schools which are dependent on boreholes for the provision of reticulated water to convert them to dry solution. Some of the weaknesses … not the inability of the government to invest in eradicating pit toilets, but inadequate capacity within the building industry to move with the greatest speed that we require,” says Mweli.
Commenting on Motshekga’s briefing, the DA’s Baxolile Nodada said while the party welcomes the police investigation into the circumstances of Viki’s death, “we will not allow the Department to use it as a diversion from its own failings at Mcwangele JSS”. DM