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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

South Africa’s education department and school sanitation projects

Tamar Kahn

The department of basic education has cut the fees paid to service providers and implementing agencies for school sanitation projects in order to stretch the budget, parliament heard on Wednesday.

Tackling hazardous and undignified school sanitation has been prioritised by President Cyril Ramaphosa, following the deaths of several young children in school toilets earlier in 2018. In March, he ordered basic education minister Angie Motshekga to conduct an audit of school sanitation and devise a plan to rectify the situation. He also launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (Safe) initiative in April, which brought in the private sector to help tackle the sanitation backlog.

Implementing agencies have been used extensively by provincial education departments due to their capacity constraints, but a recent analysis by advocacy group Equal Education found that these agencies lacked oversight and added considerable costs to projects.

Implementing-agency fees, which were typically between 4% and 8%, had been cut to 3.5%, while fees for professional service providers had been whittled down from 18% to 6%, the department of basic education’s chief director for infrastructure, Solly Mafoko, told MPs on Wednesday.

The audit found that 6,938 out of 23,334 government schools had pit latrines on their premises, he told a joint meeting of parliament’s portfolio committees on basic education, and water and sanitation. Many of these schools also lacked appropriate toilets for very young children and disabled pupils, he said. He told MPs that 3,040 schools had proper sanitation, but their pit latrines had not been demolished, while 7,274 schools needed toilets appropriate for children in Grade R. Just more than 2,100 schools did not have enough toilets.

The majority of the pit latrines were in schools in KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, he said.

The department estimated that it would cost R6.8bn to demolish all the school pit latrines and ensure there was appropriate sanitation in those schools by the end of the 2019-2020 financial year.

Mafoko said meeting that target would require re-organising funding, and that a meeting with Treasury officials had been scheduled for next week to discuss measures to ring-fence funding for school sanitation.

He provided MPs with a snapshot of the 949 sanitation projects planned for the 2018-2019 financial year, indicating that 632 projects had been completed, of which 249 were in Limpopo, 182 in Eastern Cape and 108 in KwaZulu-Natal.

His presentation appears to be at odds with a plan recently submitted to the Polokwane high court by Motshekga and Limpopo education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe in which they say that it is only possible to begin addressing  sanitation infrastructure at Limpopo schools in 2026, and that it will take 14 years to replace all the school pit latrines with waterless Enviro Loos.

The plan follows a high court order in the wake of a case brought by the family of Michael Komape, who drowned in a school pit latrine in 2014. Equal Education has filed a responding affidavit to the minister’s plan, arguing that it is constitutionally deficient. It has asked the Polokwane high court to compel the department to revise its plan and put interim measures in place to protect learners while the sanitation backlog is addressed.

Motshekga was dealt a blow in the Constitutional Court on October 29, which dismissed her application for leave to appeal against a Bhisho high court order that she ensure all schools met minimum safety standards. The constitutional court found her application for leave to appeal had no prospect of success and dismissed it with costs.

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