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66,000 Limpopo school children still forced to use pit latrines

66,000 Limpopo school children still forced to use pit latrines
“Pit toilets are an immediate threat to learners, especially small learners,” says Section27 legal research and advocacy officer Motheo Brodie. (Illustration: Lisa Nelson)

Tens of thousands of learners in the province still rely on these facilities, according to public interest law firm Section27. But this number is down sharply from 2021.

Speaking at a Defend our Democracy event organised with Equal Education (EE) on pit toilets last Thursday, Section27 legal researcher Motheo Brodie said that over 66,000 learners from 210 schools in Limpopo still relied on pit toilets. But, according to data provided by the Limpopo Department of Education, this is down from over 116,000 learners at 363 schools using pit toilets in December 2021.

EE and Section27 have been running campaigns to eradicate pit toilets in schools in line with the 2013 Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure which banned the use of pit toilets in schools. These toilets were to have been eradicated by 2016.

On 24 March this year, Section27 launched The Michael Komape Sanitation Progress Monitor, an accountability tool that tracks progress made by the Limpopo Department of Education on eliminating unsafe and undignified sanitation, including pit toilets, in Limpopo public schools and installing safe and decent sanitation facilities. Five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet at his school in Limpopo in 2014.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eight years after Michael Komape’s death, many Limpopo schools still rely on pit toilets

“Every day that learners attend schools with pit toilets, is a day their constitutional rights are violated,” said Brodie. “Pit toilets are an immediate threat to learners, especially small learners because they can easily fall in. They are a death trap.”

For the country as a whole, the latest available statistics on The National Education Infrastructure Management System (Neims), showed that more than 5,000 of the country’s 23,275 public schools still had plain pit toilets in April 2021. EE’s Head of Research Elizabeth Biney and National Organiser Zanele Modise said the bulk of the school sanitation backlogs were in mostly rural provinces like Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.

But, they said, the statistics were not always accurate as some provinces under-reported.

GroundUp tried to get up-to-date figures from the provinces.

Limpopo

No response was received by GroundUp from this province. When called for an update, department spokesperson Mike Maringa said he had forwarded GroundUp’s queries to the “infrastructure guy” who had travelled to Johannesburg.

Northern Cape

According to the Northern Cape education department’s spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe, there are no plain pit toilets in the 556 Northern Cape public schools.

The three most common forms of ablution and sanitation facilities available at public schools in the Northern Cape are flush toilets, ventilated improved pit (VIP) toilets and enviro loos.

VIP toilets are considered an acceptable form of sanitation in schools, Brodie said.

Western Cape

Bronagh Hammond said the province had 1,539 schools, including special needs schools, and none of them had pit latrines. The most common form of ablution and sanitation facilities in the Western Cape are municipal flush toilets, she said.

Free State

Department spokesperson Howard Ndaba said the province had five schools using a “hybrid” sanitation system made up of both flushing and pit toilets. This was because of an insufficient water supply. Ndaba said the department had over three years been eradicating pit toilets and the remaining ones would be eradicated by the end of the 2023-24 financial year.

North West

In a July 2021 sanitation in schools report, the Human Rights Commission, said 19 schools in the North West still used pit latrines and 44 schools reported having no sanitation facilities at the school. Nine schools reported having no access to water.

But Department spokesperson Elias Malindi, told GroundUp, “All schools have been provided with appropriate sanitation” including VIP latrines. Malindi said there were 1,482 public schools and 32 special schools in the province.

Malindi said some schools had erroneously reported VIPs as pit toilets. He said the remaining inappropriate pit latrines were being demolished and this would be complete by July 2023.

He said when schools reported that they had no sanitation facilities this was often because the VIP latrines were full. The schools received funding from the province to pump out the latrines regularly, he said.

He said the department provided boreholes to all schools where there is no supply available from municipalities.

Gauteng

The Gauteng education department said the number of schools dependent on basic pit toilets had fallen from 3,898 in 2018 to 3,397 and “sanitation projects at 2,499 of these 3,397 schools had already progressed to practical completion”.

Eastern Cape

No response was received by GroundUp from this province. Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima asked GroundUp to resend our queries but did not pick up his phone or answer his texts when contacted again.

KwaZulu-Natal

No response was received by GroundUp from this province. Department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi, asked GroundUp to resend our queries. He did not pick up his phone or answer his texts when contacted for an update on the response.

Mpumalanga

Department spokesperson Jasper Zwane said the province has about 1,611 public ordinary schools, four of which still use plain pit toilets.

He said the department intends to complete the eradication of pit toilets by the end of the 2023-24 financial year. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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