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Limpopo Education reveals plans to eradicate pit toilets in schools

Durban, South Africa: On August 30, 2021, Pupils at Siyandamazulu Primary School protested against the use of pit holes and potable toilets in KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Bongani Mbatha African News Agency (ANA)

Durban, South Africa: On August 30, 2021, Pupils at Siyandamazulu Primary School protested against the use of pit holes and potable toilets in KwaMashu, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Bongani Mbatha African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 5, 2022

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Johannesburg - The Limpopo Department of Education (LDOE) has revealed new plans to help eradicate pit toilets and prevent deaths or injuries of pupils while at school, due to unsafe school sanitation infrastructure at schools in the province.

This new plan for sanitation infrastructure delivery at schools in the province comes after Section27 took the department to court in September last year, to fight for the eradication of pit toilets from schools, alongside the Komape Family.

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The Komape Family is one of the families that suffered an unfortunate loss due to of the pit toilets, when their five-year-old son Michael Komape drowned in a pit toilet at his school, outside Polokwane, in 2014.

The family won it’s court case against the department, after returning to court – when the department provided a plan that would take more than a decade to implement.

Section27 spokesperson Julia Chaskalson said: “We returned to court last year because the LDOE’s plans to eradicate pit toilets from schools in the province only anticipated removing unsafe sanitation infrastructure, as late as 2030, among several other concerns.”

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“Demanding that the court declare the LDOE’s initial plans as unconstitutional and unreasonable, Section27 represented the Komape family in yet another High Court case, in 2021, to get the LDOE to uphold its constitutional obligations to provide safe sanitation at all schools in the province.”

In the judgment handed down by Judge Muller, from the High Court of South Africa in Polokwane, the persistence of pit toilets at schools was described as a “national emergency”.

The Limpopo High Court then handed down a judgment in September last year, in favour of the family, and urged the LDOE to take “urgent and effective steps”, and provide a list of all schools with pit toilets and status and needs, the budget for the delivery of infrastructure at these schools, revised timelines for implementation, and suitable interim solutions, among other requirements, within 90 days – and the department was to also provide the court with reports every six months on progress towards eliminating pit toilets.

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The LDOE contracted a team of field assessors to verify the status of sanitation infrastructure at 2 467 schools around the province and schools with pit toilets only are being prioritised for demolition of unsafe structures, and the delivery of sufficient numbers of safe toilets, as per the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, following in priority.

“While efforts to expedite the delivery of safe sanitation infrastructure are welcome, Section27 notes that, according to the Relating to Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, all schools were supposed to have been provided with safe sanitation in 2016.”

“Recently, the Department of Basic Education has proposed amendments to the Norms and Standards, which involve the scrapping of deadlines for infrastructure delivery,” said Chaskalson

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Chaskalson added: “Section27 is making submissions on these amendments, and believes that the deadlines for infrastructure delivery are crucial accountability measures that school communities and civil society can use to hold education authorities accountable to their promises, with respect to safe school infrastructure.”

Section27 has gone on to highlight some concerns, despite the department's plans being more detailed than previously – some of the concerns being that there are about 78 schools relying solely on pit toilets, that are not listed in the plans to address schools with only pit toilets.

Some schools do not appear in cost breakdowns, implying that provision of safe infrastructure has not been properly budgeted for.

Section27 calculations indicate that the LDOE may be short of at least R3.1 billion to implement this plan.

The LDOE has revised its deadlines for the complete eradication of sanitation backlogs to take place between 2022/23 and 2028/29, but the reasons for these time frames are unclear.

Some schools seem to be missing from priority lists and, in many cases, insufficient information is provided for each school.

Evidence that mobile toilets have been provided as interim measures, while alleged permanent sanitation solutions are delivered in the form of renting mobile toilets, is not in the budget.

Section27 remains committed to monitoring the rollout of safe sanitation infrastructure and working with education authorities, to ensure implementation of infrastructure delivery to all schools in Limpopo, and has asked that the education authorities address its queries in the next report.

The new deadline for schools to have adequate safe school sanitation infrastructure has been set for the 2028/2029 financial year.

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