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THE PITS

Eastern Cape Education MEC admits there are 427 schools with pit latrines in the province

Eastern Cape Education MEC admits there are 427 schools with pit latrines in the province
As the 2024 academic year starts there are still 427 schools in the Eastern Cape with pit toilets. (Photos: Mkhuseli Sizani)

As schools resume for the 2024 academic year the Eastern Cape, Education MEC Fundile Gade has admitted to the provincial legislature that there are still 427 schools with 113,041 learners that are using pit latrines in the province.

In the past year, the Eastern Cape Department of Education managed to remove only 21 pit toilets from schools in the province, leaving 113,041 learners without appropriate sanitation.

This is among the statistics on the provision of appropriate sanitation to the province’s schools that Education MEC Fundile Gade recently provided to the legislature.

The statistics show a significant decline in efforts to address pit toilets at schools in the Eastern Cape since 2020. In that year, pit latrines were eradicated at 147 schools; 465 schools were given appropriate sanitation in 2021; in 2022, 132 schools benefited from the programme.

Gade said 77 of the schools that still have pit latrines are in the Alfred Nzo district. With its seat in Mount Ayliff (eMaxesibeni) and bordering on KwaZulu-Natal, this district is the smallest and poorest in the province.

Read more in Daily Maverick: No answers for family of four-year-old girl found dead in school pit toilet

Other districts with high numbers of schools with pit latrines are the two OR Tambo Districts; Coastal (around Port St Johns and Coffee Bay) and Inland (around Mthatha) with 55 and 58 schools each, and the eastern part of the Amathole District (covering the central part of the province) with 56 schools.

Gade explained that the replacement of pit latrines is funded by the Education Infrastructure Grant. He said they needed R2.5-billion to eradicate pit toilets at schools in the province but have only received R1.8-billion. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nonprofit organisation is leading the charge to flush pit latrines out of South African schools

The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for education, Horatio Hendricks, said despite the significant health risks that these toilets pose, and the impact that the lack of proper sanitation facilities has on learners receiving a suitable education, the MEC has revealed that his department plans to eradicate pit latrines at only 50 schools this financial year.

In October 2023, the Office of the Public Protector issued a damning report against several Eastern Cape government departments, including education. 

The report found that the department was guilty of improper conduct in terms of legislation and had failed in its mandate to provide services.

During hearings by the Public Protector, the education department acknowledged that “much work still needs to be done to address schools with pit latrines and schools with insufficient basic services.”

Officials pointed out at the time that 40 sanitation projects were planned for procurement in the previous financial year, but only six were finished and 32 were “under construction”. Gade’s answer to the provincial legislature was given about 12 months later.

But the investigators of the Public Protector’s office were not convinced.

“Notwithstanding the significant strides and commendable improvements made by the [department]… it is evident that basic and essential infrastructure such as ablution and sanitation facilities are still lacking in several schools within the EC province,” the report continued.

A turnaround strategy for the education department was one of the goals of a “crack team” assembled by the province’s premier, Oscar Mabuyane, in October 2023. 

Despite several requests since December last year, Mabuyane’s spokespeople have failed to provide evidence of any work being done on any of the issues highlighted, including education.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape premier claims redeployments are to build a ‘crack team’, but DA says it’s a ‘smokescreen’

The Public Protector’s Office expected feedback on her report and the plans for a turnaround strategy that she ordered in mid-December. 

For the Department of Education, this included: “A report in line with the Eastern Cape Department of Education’s statutory obligations in terms of the Constitution and the South African Schools Act for a ‘detailed refurbishment Project Plan for Loyiso Senior Secondary School and Cancele Primary School under the Alfred Nzo District with clear dates, turn around periods, targets, budgets and deliverables indicating how the upgrading and development of these schools’ infrastructure would be re-prioritised as undertaken by the department.” 

Investigators had described the condition of the toilets at both these schools as “shocking”.

The department was also ordered to provide a report by mid-December to the Public Protector’s office on plans to conduct an audit and develop a medium to long-term plan to address school challenges related to basic infrastructure in the province.

Hendricks said that the deadline set by the public protector has since passed.

“I will be writing to the portfolio committee chair for education, Mpumelelo Saziwa, to ask that the department be called before the committee to account and that the report be provided to the committee. The education department does not have the internal capacity to manage infrastructure development projects,” he added.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Top former officials of Office of Eastern Cape Premier Mabuyane appear in court on fraud charges

Readiness for school year

In late December, a statement from department spokesperson, Mali Mtima, said that 920 learners in four districts were still unplaced in schools (mostly for Grade 1 and Grade 8). Most of these learners were in the two metros in the province — Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City.

He said the distributors have managed to deliver 98.3% of learning materials; 100% of stationery was delivered by November. 

“To date we can confirm that 100% of volume 1 Mathematics workbooks for Grades 8 and 9 to all secondary schools have been delivered. Also, workbooks for Grades R to 9 (Mathematics, Home Language, First Additional Language and Life Skills for all combined schools have been received by schools. Deliveries for all primary schools have also been concluded as of 30 November 2023).

“Currently, there are 656 schools in the province with less than 100 learners. In 81% of these schools, enrolment has declined over the last five years and most of them are primary schools (616). Amathole East and Chris Hani East districts (these districts cover the central part of the province) have the highest number of schools with less than 100 learners. The majority of these schools (471) are recommended for closure, but 175 are to be retained, six realigned and three converted from primary to secondary schools.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape parents bent on pursuing legal battle against education department over chronically overcrowded schools

He added that 318 schools in the province have fewer than 50 learners; the bulk (310) being primary schools. Of these, 288 have been recommended for closure.

Mtima added that the department had taken a decision to fund schools in the three lowest quintiles according to national standards, but admitted that this decision “was not carried through”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape schools head to court after education department slashes next year’s budget

“Furthermore, the department received an instruction to implement a 3.2% budget cut,” he added.

He said R594-million for 2024/25 was received from the National Treasury through the adjustment of the provincial equitable share formula. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape warns of drastic budget-slashing to meet national government targets

“This enabled the department to fund 96% of the national norm in 2024/25 for both public ordinary schools and early childhood development,” he added. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Did I understand this correctly? The spokesperson says they need R2.5bn to eradicate pit latrines in the 427 schools. That works out to R5.85 million per school. I have literally no idea whether this is reasonable or not. He then says that they ‘only’ got R1.8bn and will use this for 50 schools? That’s R36 million per school, or put another way, cadrenomics!

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