The Limpopo Department of Education is among the worst violators of children’s rights, with pit latrines and broken toilets still in use.
According to Amnesty International South Africa campaigner Sibusiso Khasa, the entire country depicts a bleak picture for children enrolled at public schools, with Limpopo among the highest violators of children’s rights.
Khasa expressed concern about the reopening of schools on July 18, where children will be expected to use pit toilets again.
“One of the key infrastructure issues is poor sanitation which impacts a range of rights including not just education, water, and sanitation but also health, privacy, and dignity. Amnesty International researchers found numerous examples of badly maintained, broken or unsanitary toilets, including pit latrines.
This is despite the fact that a key requirement of the 2013 Minimum Norms and Standards is that plain pit latrines are eradicated.
“Looking at the bigger picture in the joint survey carried out with the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), 47% of respondents across three provinces indicated that schools in their area had pit toilets, including 21% where either all or most schools had them,” said Khasa.
“Eastern Cape scored the worst, with 63% of respondents indicating that at least some schools still had pit toilets. In Limpopo, 59% still had schools with at least some pit toilets. In Gauteng, 14% still had schools with at least some pit toilets.”
Khasa said their report, titled “Broken and Unequal: The state of education in South Africa”, found that at some schools, the entire school would depend on two or three plain pit toilets.
“The report recommended that in order for the right to quality, equal basic education to be realised, the government must ensure all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation. This included replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets by the end of 2020 and eradicating all pit toilets completely by 2023.
“A follow-up report in 2021, South Africa: Failing to learn the lessons? The impact of COVID-19 on a broken and unequal education system gauged the impact of Covid-19 on the education system and found that the single largest cut in the 2020 Supplementary Budget was applied to the school infrastructure programme.”
“As in 2020, it recommended that the government ensure that all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation, including replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets and adhering to concrete deadlines and targets,” he said.
Khasa added that there was a lack of political will in dealing with the pit toilets.
“What the government and DBE are showing us is that this lack of political will and action to eradicate pit toilets is a disregard of the country’s constitution, the oath officials took, and people’s basic human rights. This is demonstrated by their failure to meet deadlines and last year’s attempts to evade accountability by removing deadlines in the draft amended regulations relating to minimum norms and standards of school infrastructure,” he said.
Amnesty International’s executive director Shenilla Mohamed also agreed that political principals were not too concerned about fixing the issue of pit toilets.
“On 18 May 2022, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga told Parliament that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) plans to eradicate pit toilets from all schools within the 2022/23 financial year. This message has been repeated several times in the media by DBE representatives.
“These illegal pit toilets are not only violating the right to sanitation which is enshrined in the Constitution, but also the right to health, education, dignity, and privacy whilst in some cases posing a serious risk to the right to life. By continuing to miss deadlines, which the department has done before, the DBE is showing total disregard for the basic human rights of learners,” Mohamed said.
Limpopo provincial education department spokesperson Mike Maringa was not reachable for comment on his cellphone.
National education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga did not respond to a media inquiry on the missed deadlines to eradicate pit toilets in rural areas.