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Protect school children from drowning in pit latrines!

April 12, 2018
topic:Child rights
tags:#pit latrines, #Africa, #human rights, #Angie Motshekga, #infrastructure
located:South Africa
by:Shasha Seakamela
At first, nobody knew what had happened to the little girl. Her family and residents gathered and began searching. The police arrived in the morning with search dogs. The dogs would eventually latch on to the 5-year old young girl Lumka’s scent, close to where much of the search had been focused the previous night. Her little body was found at the bottom of one of the Eastern Cape school’s pit latrines. This is the ongoing sad reality in South African poor schools today.

In 2010 South Africa paid billions to host the football World Cup, and yet children today are still going to South African schools that lack even basic toilets. In areas where water is scarce and plumbing doesn't exist, communities are forced to share communal pit latrines, which are little more than holes in the ground framed by planks of wood. More than 9 000 schools across South Africa have only pit latrines for toilets, according to the department of basic education’s 2016 statistics.

Last year, a young boy Komape dominated the national conscience after his family’s civil lawsuit began at the high court in Limpopo province. Komape was also just five years old. He died in 2014 after falling into a pit latrine at his school near Polokwane. He drowned in faeces. The recent death of Lumka in March 2018, just like that of Komape, has once again raised great concern calls to eradicate once and for all pit toilets at schools. So much that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has immediately called for an urgent meeting with provincial ministers of education and heads of departments to discuss school infrastructure and find ways of accelerating the eradication of unsafe facilities.

Motshekga says her department is ‘addressing poor conditions at schools and is prioritising unsafe structures and those without decent sanitation, electricity and water. She has described Lumka's death as undignified and completely unacceptable. She says it breaks her heart knowing that sector officials have failed to address infrastructure issues fast enough.’

For the first time, South Africa had a piece of law which said that a school must have decent toilets, electricity, water, fencing, classroom numbers, libraries, laboratories and sports fields. The school infrastructure law (the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure) was passed by the same Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on 29 November 2013. For many years, a non-government movement, Equal Education members marched, picketed, petitioned, fasted, and went door-to-door in communities, in order for Minister Motshekga to do so.

It is clear that most provinces are not meeting their infrastructure targets, forcing learners to endure horrific conditions at schools. School toilets often end up as the “Cinderella” of school infrastructure – a part of the school which is neglected and hidden from view and is often in appalling condition.

The worst-resourced schools are those in rural areas and those that during the apartheid era didn’t get as much investment as others. So there’s an inequality issue there too. For example, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape are two of the worst provinces in terms of education. Much inequality has its roots in policies pursued by apartheid-era governments.

“During the colonial and apartheid-era the government restricted the geographical settlement choices and freedom of movement of black South Africans. These policies were also accompanied by large regional discrepancies in government spending, entrenching the association between place and poverty,” wrote Ronelle Burger for Cape Times.

It’s not just about education: it’s also about privacy, dignity and health. A lot of the toilets don’t have doors, ventilation, seats, or even a place for toilet paper. That means a lot of the schoolchildren are using newspaper or rocks instead. There’s no space for them to wash their hands. It is clear that South Africa does not yet act to protect its children.

“After nine years as a minister, Angie Motshekga is responding as she should. But why has it taken an instruction from the new president to deal with this? Now? After NINE years as a minister? Does it not make you want to vomit at the next opening of parliament when members of parliament in designer suits and dresses bling it up, while children are dying in pit toilets? When ministers are caught up in scandals relating to expensive hotels because they don't like water restrictions at the official residence? When ministers are caught up in scandals about luxury German cars at taxpayers' expense,” said Radio 702 host Bongani Bingwa.

The school governing body must assume responsibility for attending to all safety repairs without delay, whether by arranging for skilled members of the school community to complete the repairs, contracting a technician or liaising with the Department of Education for repairs to be done by the department. Also, as a matter of urgency, the department must provide functional sanitation facilities at schools to ensure the health and safety of our country’s young learners while affording them the dignity that they deserve.

Article written by:
Shasha Seakamela
South Africa
Embed from Getty Images
In 2010 South Africa paid billions to host the football World Cup, and yet children today are still going to South African schools that lack even basic toilets.
Embed from Getty Images
The school governing body must assume responsibility for attending to all safety repairs without delay.
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