“Viwe Jali, another 5-year-old who drowned in a pit toilet in Eastern Cape. The ANC government never learned from Michael Komapi. This is not a government of the people,” wrote Unathi Kwaza on her Twitter timeline.
On Monday, loved ones and school staff looked everywhere for Viwe. Her body lay in a pit latrine overnight at Luna Primary School in Nyaka village, under the Mizize administration in Mbizana municipality, Eastern Cape. She was only found on Tuesday.
Viwe is not the first child to die this way. Michael’s lifeless body was discovered by his mother on January 20, 2014. His hand protruded from a pool of human excrement in one of the pit latrines at Mahlodumela Lower Primary School in Chebeng Village, Polokwane.
The school principal had written numerous letters to the Department of Education in Limpopo asking for new toilets to be built for safety reasons.
The letters went unanswered.
Equal Education wrote that over 9000 schools in South Africa use pit latrines. The organisation said that these were the only forms of toilets at these schools.
They posed the following question to the Department of Basic Education: “For how long must we wait for you to demonstrate the urgency and commitment required to fix the Norms, and to fix our schools.”
On Wednesday, Equal Education and Basic Education for All (Befa) took the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to Bisho High Court challenging the school infrastructure law. They, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and Section 27 respectively, questioned the constitutionality of regulations put in place by DBE that removes the department from complete responsibility.
These regulations were put in place in November 2013 and only prescribe the minimum requirements for safe and adequate school infrastructure, in line with the learners’ right to basic education. However, Befa and Equal Education make the case that schools must have decent toilets, electricity, water, fencing, classroom numbers, libraries, laboratories and sports fields.
“The school infrastructure law is also at the moment being used to avoid responsibility. This court case is about fixing the unconstitutional loopholes and gaps in the Norms law,” said Equal Education.
The organisation said they have been trying to engage the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, for two years.
“This matter did not have to go to court. For two years we attempted to engage directly with Minister Motshekga to #FixTheNorms. Why does government want to avoid clear timelines and plans for fixing schools,” said the organisation.
Now another child has died.
NGO Section 27’s head of education Faranaaz Veriava said incidents like these [the deaths of Viwe and Michael] were one of the reasons the country needs proper, binding infrastructure norms and standards.
Campaign Manager for #FreePadsforDignity Tumelo McXhanko places the blame squarely on Motshekga: “Ms Angie Motshekga should be accountable for the death of #ViweJali,” he wrote on his Twitter timeline.
Viwe’s father, Vuyani Mkhethwa, said the family was not coping. “We do not understand how this happened.”
Mkhethwa said he last saw his daughter on Monday morning as she was leaving for school. He said her teacher told him she was last seen at 1pm just before school ended at 1.30pm.”
This is why Equal Education said it wants government to commit to meeting the school infrastructure targets that it has set for itself. We want the State to deliver on the basic school infrastructure needed to fulfill the rights to dignity, equality, education, and the best interests of the child.
Motshekga and her department released statement of Viwe’s passing on Thursday. The minister said the death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable, and incredibly disturbing.
She said the Eastern Cape had already exhausted its maintenance budget, however, counselling services were being provided to the school, and a case has been opened with the local police station, at the Mzamba Police Station.
“Investigations are proceeding into the circumstances surrounding Jali’s [Viwe] death. The department is doing everything in its capacity to address infrastructure backlogs in a timely manner by prioritising unsafe structures and those without decent sanitation, electricity and water,” she said.
Motshekga said her ministry holds bi-weekly meetings with implementing agents and the infrastructure team will ensure that infrastructure targets are prioritised.
Motshega said her department introduced a 12% minimum budget for each province to be dedicated to maintenance. It took this step to compel provinces to set aside funding for maintenance because some provinces were not budgeting for it and letting schools become dilapidated over time.
Equal Education said the department’s response was not good enough.
“We still see too many schools with pit latrines, mud walls, and asbestos ceilings. And we still see schools with unreliable supplies of water and electricity. Schools must be properly fixed, and learners cannot wait indefinitely for basic infrastructure. That is why we are now back in court,” said Equal Education.