Maverick Citizen


MPs give Angie Motshekga 60 days to submit time frames to eradicate ‘death trap’ pit latrines at schools

MPs give Angie Motshekga 60 days to submit time frames to eradicate ‘death trap’ pit latrines at schools
A pupil at Vulingcobo Junior Secondary School uses an old pit latrine at the Sibanye-Stillwater mine in Xhora, near Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

Pupils at thousands of schools in South Africa still use pit latrines. Parliament has given the Department of Basic Education 60 days to outline how it will eradicate the dangerous structures.

After the horrific drownings of at least three pupils in pit latrines at South African schools over the years, members of Parliament have called on education authorities to submit, within 60 days, a detailed report with timelines and deadlines to eradicate such structures in Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

This is contained in a draft report which was adopted by the portfolio committee on basic education in Parliament on Tuesday. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The indignity of pit toilet deaths: Michael Komape in 2014, now Lumka Mkhethwa

The draft report came after National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on 24 July 2023 referred a petition from Nguvu Collective Change leader Yongama Zigebe to the committee to consider. 

Nguvu Collective Change is a social justice movement and Zigebe is also the secretary-general of the United Democratic Movement (UDM).

The petition called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the government to eradicate pit latrines in rural schools in the three provinces. 

MPs recommended that the DBE brief Zigebe about the progress made in eradicating pit latrines.

pit latrines

A pit toilet at Enduku Junior Secondary School in Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The DBE was also instructed to ensure that alternative solutions for ablution facilities were implemented at schools with water scarcity.

In addition, the committee stated the DBE should ensure that:

  • New ablution facilities are made available as soon as possible;
  • The MPs are furnished with details of developments, and progress reports are submitted to the committee secretariat; and
  • The progress of provincial education departments towards eradicating pit latrines is regularly monitored.

A step forward

Zigebe on Tuesday said the recommendations represented a significant step forward in ensuring the provision of safe and hygienic facilities for pupils. 

He said the emphasis on exploring alternative solutions for ablution facilities in schools facing water scarcity was commendable.

Limpopo pit toilets

Four months ago, the 258 students at Soka Leholo Primary School in Limpopo were using these pit toilets. (Delwyn Verasamy)

eastern cape pit toilet

Langalam Viki (3) died after falling into a pit toilet at Mcwangele Primary School in Vaalbank village in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: DA / Facebook)

“It is imperative that affected communities are involved in the decision-making process to ensure their needs are adequately addressed.”  

Zigebe was encouraged by the commitment to transparency and accountability shown by the committee. 

“This level of oversight will help ensure that the eradication of pit latrines remains a top priority for all relevant stakeholders,” Zigebe said. 

“I am confident that by working together and implementing these measures, we can make significant strides towards ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all learners in our schools.”  

The UDM and leadership of Nguvu Collective Change would ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations, Zigebe said. 

“It is essential to hold accountable those responsible for adhering to the agreed-upon timelines and milestones outlined in the report.” 

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

The petition that Zigebe submitted contained more than 5,000 signatures of people calling on DBE Minister Angie Motskekga to eradicate pit latrines and protect the human rights of children in rural schools.

Human rights violation

Zigebe said he had visited a rural school in the Eastern Cape and was appalled by what he saw there.

“Education has become life-threatening for learners in South African rural schools. Beyond that, it has become a human rights violation,” Zigebe wrote.

He said it was saddening to witness after 30 years of democracy that children and teachers relieved themselves in the “death traps that are pit latrines, or even worse, resort to open defecation.

Langalam Viki (3) died on 6 March after falling into a pit toilet at Mcwangele Primary School in Vaalbank village in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet at his school. (Photo: Supplied / / Wikipedia)

“Eradication of these horrendous death traps would be in line with the South African Constitution which guarantees the right to life, dignity, safety, health, proper sanitation, and conducive environment to education.”  

He cited the Polokwane High Court ruling made on 17 September 2021 that ordered the eradication of pit latrines in schools across South Africa.

Judge Gerrit Muller made that ruling after civil society organisation SECTION27 represented the family of Michael Komape, a five-year-old learner who drowned in a pit latrine at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo on 20 January 2014.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Court orders Limpopo education dept to devise workable plan for abolition of school pit toilets

Zigebe said Judge Muller, in his ruling, had expressed his disappointment at the lack of urgency in dealing with this issue.

“Regardless of this, the DBE still drags its feet at the expense of human life,” Zigebe wrote.

He said it had been nine years since Komape died and five years since  Lumka Mthethwa drowned in a pit latrine at Luna Primary School in Bizana, Eastern Cape, in 2018.

“Yet the DBE has moved at a devastatingly slow pace in eradicating pit latrine toilets in public schools, infringing heavily on the right to life, human dignity and basic education. In March 2023, we watched in horror as yet another four-year-old girl was found dead in a school pit toilet in the Eastern Cape.”

He was referring to Langalam Viki, who fell into a pit toilet at Mcwangelel Primary School in Vaalbank in the Eastern Cape.

Zigebe said President Cyril Ramaphosa and Motshekga gave a rosy presentation in 2018 on how millions of rands were being used to address the issue. The DBE, he said, had committed to eradicating pit latrine toilets in public schools by 2025.

Zigebe said Motshekga’s department identified 3,398 schools with pit latrines in March 2023.

“For the 2025 commitment, there are hardly 15 months left. There are more than 3,000 schools that still have illegal pit latrines that need to be demolished and replaced. There was a need to know what progress had been made since March 2023,” Zigebe submitted.

Angie Motshekga, matric results

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

DBE reacts

The DBE’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, said they wholeheartedly supported the committee’s recommendations. 

“While every infrastructure project has defined timelines and planned dates of completion, there are, nevertheless, variable factors that impact on targets,” Mhlanga said.

He said these included interruptions by the construction mafia which could hamper site progress for months, community interruptions, industrial action and inclement weather conditions.

“The DBE and [provincial education departments], as well as implementing agents, always work towards setting targets in keeping with annual performance plans. The DBE regularly reports to the Portfolio Committee on the progress of its infrastructure projects and there is no reason why this will not continue,” he said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Ok yeah…. but let’s be honest.

    NOTHING will actually happen.

  • drew barrimore says:

    How about a hundred-year time frame? Too short for the ANC I know, but something nonetheless.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    It is disgraceful that our children are still in such a place after all this time. They should make Angie enjoy the use of a nice ripe one until she sorts it out, and then for six months longer so she does forget.

  • Con Tester says:

    A good start, albeit very late, provided our parliamentarians stick to their timeframe—which is always a very dodgy assumption.

    But while they were at it, they also should’ve given Motshekga 60 days to eradicate “death trap” basic education in SA, as well as “death trap” interference and obstruction by SADTU.

  • John L says:

    Until there are consequences for the failure of government officials to produce results, nothing will happen.
    Government could build multi-million rand stadiums and upgrade the freeways in a short period of time for the world cup, but cannot build toilets for schools in 30 years… or even 10 years after a court judgement against them

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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