South Africa


Angie Motshekga questions details of death of Langalam Viki, says police investigating

Angie Motshekga questions details of death of Langalam Viki, says police investigating
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on 18 January 2023 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Wynne Wynne says:

    In the 40 years that have passed since the ANC government assumed responsibility for schools, it seems incomprehensible that we have a Minister (who has been in her job for over a decade at least) who tries to fob off criticism over the question of pit toilets at this particular school. Maybe that school does have proper toilets, but if, as she claims, the latrines that were supposed to have been demolished are still there, the Department remains guilty of gross negligence. The fact that there are ANY pit latrines still at schools – anywhere in SA – remains a shocking indication of the incompetence of the Dept of Education. Given the billions allocated to education annually, any responsible leader of the Department would have ensured that these totally unacceptable facilities were replaced (and removed) decades ago. This continued blot on the provision of suitable facilities for ALL school children remains a national disgrace, a damning indication of the inferiority of the sort of leadership we have experienced at the top of our national and provincial departments.

  • John Weaver Weaver says:

    Proper pit toilets are safe.

    Broken pit toilets are unsafe.

    Flush toilets are a major health hazard when water is not supplied.

    Do not move away from safe pit toilets bacause people like David Wynne Wynne are shouting.

  • Jean Carte says:

    A great number of rural families continue to use pit toilets with dignity because there is no provision of water! It’s all very well to abolish pit toilets, but to provide alternate toilets and functioning sewerage management is beyond the capabilities of many of our municipalities. Having enough passionate, qualified educators and teacher assistants in schools to guide and care for our younger learners should help. But our schools are understaffed, classes have too many children and the educators are suffering. Instead of making a commitment to eradicating pit toilets, how about a commitment to radically improving our education!!

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    “There are still a lot of questions outstanding… “ And the answer to all the questions is: You and the rest of your anc cadre deployees did not do your work. It really is that simple!

  • Jan Malan says:

    I remember the EFF and ANC went ballistic because there were still pit toilets in the WC. Now the WC has none but the EFF and the ANC are mum about the pit toilets in the rest of South Africa.

  • virginia crawford says:

    I think that when they rebuild parliament in Cape Town they should put in pit latrines. It’s sad but true, a flush toilet without water is a health hazard. So well built pit latrines in parliament would save water and remind our politicians of the real world. Also, no generators.

  • William Stucke says:

    Small children fall into toilets because the seats are too large. Or the structure is otherwise unsafe, such as having an exposed pit.

    A “long drop” is not pleasant to use, unless properly designed and maintained. I speak from experience. The VIP latrine was developed in the 1970s at the Blair Research Laboratory in Zimbabwe. It’s really, really simple. Add a 110 mm vertical pipe from the “pit” to 300 mm above the roof, to cause a through draft of air, removing all smells and flies from the pit. Add a screen at the top of the pipe. Flies who enter the pit, or who hatch in it, fly upwards to the light at the top of the pipe and die.

    Obviously, this only works if the VIP Toilet is properly maintained and actually has a LID as well as a seat.

    This really isn’t rocket science. Nor is it expensive. Why can’t our Government get these very simple things right? Is it because there aren’t enough multi-million Rand tender opportunities?

    Google “Single Ventilated Improved Pit” for more details.

  • Cecilia Wedgwood says:

    What happened to the WATERLESS TOILETS that Bill Gates was instrumental in inventing? Are they commercially available. Solar power could be used for power a- till they broke or got stolen !

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    A pit toilet can be perfectly safe and hygenic.
    If anyone has had builders you know that demolition of a set of toilets could be done in a day and the rubble removed from the site too. And it really wouldnt take a good builder too long to build install some new toilets either. There’s something else blocking the system here. Also whatever happened to good maintenance?

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