Only 68 out of 4 000 pit latrines at public schools in South Africa have been fixed, according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Motshekga revealed this in response to a written parliamentary question from Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela who wanted details pertaining to school infrastructure and personal protective equipment amid rising coronavirus infections at certain schools.
“It is true that several schools have challenges related to water supply and sanitation. The Department of Basic Education is working with the various provincial departments of education, Rand Water and the water boards to address such challenges,” said Motshekga.
Motshekga reiterated the department’s commitment to eradicate pit latrines by 2022.
“It is also correct that the provincial departments of education identified more than 3 800 schools that rely on basic pit toilets. Again, the Department of Basic Education is working with the various provincial departments of education to address such challenges. Sanitation solutions have been implemented at 68 of these schools under the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme.”
The ASIDI programme aims to eradicate the basic safety norms backlog in schools without water, sanitation and electricity.
“The provincial departments of education have addressed the needs at a further 834 schools. Several partnerships contributed to solve the challenge at another 103 schools. The Department of Basic Education appointed four different implementing agents to address a further 1 121 schools. These implementing agents are in varying stages of completion of the sanitation solutions. The current plan is to eradicate the basic pit toilets by March 2022. This is, however, dependent on the availability of funding for this purpose,” Motshekga said.
Two years ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative in an attempt to rid schools of pit latrines.
This followed the deaths of Lumka Mkhethwa, 5, and Michael Komape, 5, who drowned in pit latrines in separate incidents in Eastern Cape and Limpopo, respectively.
“There are nearly 4,000 schools across the country that only have pit latrines or other inappropriate sanitation facilities. These are the schools that serve the children of the poor. It was in such a school, Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo, where five-year old Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet in 2014. And it was in such a school, Luna Junior Primary School in the Eastern Cape, where Lumka Mkethwa lost her life in March this year,” said Ramaphosa.
“The utterly tragic and devastating deaths of children so young and so innocent remind us of the human consequences of service delivery delayed. They remind us that we must focus all our attention not on what we have achieved, but on what we haven’t. We have heard the cries of anguished families, we have felt the outrage of a society that cannot bear to witness to another needless death. It is our responsibility – as government, business, civil society, parents, teachers and communities – to act with purpose, urgency and unity. Through the SAFE initiative, we can all help to restore the dignity of learners in mostly rural and township schools by providing age-appropriate sanitation facilities.”
Equal Education, a body advocating for learner rights, says issues of safety in schools have been a concern for a while.
Equal Education Law Centre said on Monday that the NGO was disappointed that the education department has failed to meet another deadline to address the sanitation crisis by 2020.
“What is clear is that the eradication process is taking way too long. The fact that she is saying the eradication of pit latrines will be completed by 2022 is not acceptable when that deadline in terms of the minimum norms and standards passed years ago,” said Tarryn Cooper-Bell, spokesperson for Equal Education Law Centre in Cape Town, Western Cape.
“We are concerned about this number – 4 000. That is a massive number of children whose lives are in danger and it is disappointing to see how slow the process is going.”
Out of almost 25,000 nationwide, the 4 000 schools with pit latrines are found mainly in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces.
Eastern Cape has 61 schools with no toilets at all, and 1,585 schools with pit latrines while neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal province has 1,379 pit latrines in use.
Limpopo Province, where Michael Komape went to school, has at least 932 unsafe toilets.
(REPORTING BY INSIDE EDUCATION STAFF)