Tuesday 28 May

SECTION27 Statement for immediate release

15 August 2018

Launch of the SAFE Initiative: Proof will be in the pudding

JOHANNESBURG – We appreciate the intentions of Government to fix the tragic state of the sanitation crisis with the President Cyril Ramaphosa-led launch of the Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative (SAFE) initiative this week with a key aim to obtain contributions to foot the bill.

We are concerned that President Ramaphosa did not present a concrete, measurable, funded and time-bound plan for the urgent alleviation of unsafe sanitation conditions in schools. Moreover, the initiative aims to roll out measures to improve sanitation in a 12 to 18 month timeframe. This is unacceptably slow for measures that are urgent and which we know will save children’s lives.

The SAFE Initiative, rather than providing long-awaited solutions to the sanitation crisis, is another indication of unwillingness to treat dangerous school sanitation as an absolute emergency. The state has not seen fit to allocate additional funds to eliminate unsafe infrastructure in schools. Nor has it provided a plan for the use of funds it seeks to raise from the private sector.

The 3 898 schools in “urgent need” as defined by the SAFE Initiative itself will, unless a fully funded plan with time-frames is developed, become a further example of broken promises.

While the deaths of five-year-old Michael Komape and five-year-old Lumka Mkethwa in pit toilets were referenced repeatedly during the launch of the SAFE Initiative, these are not isolated tragedies, nor is this a new phenomenon.

On 11 September 2007, six-year-old Siyamthanda went to the toilet at Dalasile Primary School in the Eastern Cape, and the walls of the toilet collapsed onto him. He passed away in hospital.

In March 2013, seven-year-old Tebogo* was using the toilet at Mmushi Primary School in Limpopo when the walls of the toilet cubicle collapsed around him and crushed him. He passed away on his way to the hospital.

On 3 May 2016, after his school in the North West Province reported him missing, five-year-old Thatho* fell into a pit toilet at school and had to be pulled out with a rope. Unfortunately, he had inhaled a high volume of faecal matter by the time he was rescued, and developed hydrocephalus.

On 21 August 2017, Grade 1 learner Ziyanda was using the pit toilet at Mpumelelo Primary School in Mpumalanga, when the structure collapsed under her and she fell into the pit of waste below. Fortunately, one of the older boys at school heard her screams and was able to pull her out of the pit before she became submerged in the excrement.

These are just some of the cases that have come to our attention. No doubt there are more.

We attended the launch of the SAFE – a project partnering the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The project was spurred by the tragic death of five-year-old Lumka Mkethwa after she fell into a pit toilet at school, and is a response to President Ramaphosa’s instruction on 16 March 2018 for the DBE to formulate a plan to eradicate unsafe school sanitation on an urgent basis.

President Ramaphosa directed the Minister for Basic Education to conduct an audit of all schools with unsafe structures, especially unsafe sanitation facilities within a month, and present a plan to rectify the challenges, as an emergency interim measure, while rolling out proper infrastructure. The emergency plan was required within three months of the directive.

The DBE’s approach to issues of school sanitation and infrastructure more broadly have been far more obstructive than the SAFE Initiative might suggest. The difficulties of unsafe school sanitation are not new. Together with community-based organisation Basic Education for All (BEFA), SECTION27 has consistently raised the challenges with the DBE as far back as 2012. In this time we have seen no real urgency or political will to mitigate this emergency. And we have seen the urgency of the situation intensify.

SECTION27 is representing the family of Michael Komape in their efforts to seek justice for the death of their son after he fell into a pit toilet at school and drowned in the faecal matter below. The Limpopo High Court delivered its judgment on 23 April 2018, in which it recognised the widespread sanitation crisis in our schools and the failure by the state to take steps to mitigate the risk of harm to learners. It accordingly ordered the DBE and the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) to provide the Court with –

A list containing the names and locations of all of the schools in rural areas with pit toilets for use by the learners;
The estimated period required to replace all of the current pit toilets at the schools so identified; and
A detailed programme developed by the relevant experts for the installation of the toilets on an assessment made in respect of the suitable sanitation technology requirements of each school inclusive of a proposed date (and reasons for the proposed date) for the commencement of the work; and
Report on compliance with these orders by no later than 30 July 2018.
On 30 July 2018, rather than providing the required report, the DBE and LDoE applied for a one-month extension of their deadline. In that application, they did not explain what they have done in the three months since the order was granted, nor did they indicate why they could not comply.

We regard the request for an extension as contemptuous not only to the court but to the learners attending public schools in Limpopo and across South Africa, who face threats to their health and safety on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this is consistent with the state’s broader attempts to escape its obligations with regard to safe infrastructure and sanitation.

*Not their real names


For more information contact:

Nomatter Ndebele: 072 919 2752

Sam Brener : 072 149 9848


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