A statement from Basic Education for All (BEFA), SECTION27 and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)

We are horrified and angry at media and Department of Basic Education reports that five year old Lumka Mkhethwa died in a pit latrine at Luna Primary school in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.  This terrible news comes as the State argued this week in the Bhisho High Court that the Minimum Norms and Standards for school infrastructure promulgated by Minister Angie Motshekga in 2013 are sufficient and subject to available resources. Currently the Norms and Standards allow the national department until 2030 to ensure that schools are operating at ‘optimal functionality’ but a child has died in 2018. This is why these standards are woefully insufficient.

On Tuesday, 13 March, the little girl is reported to have disappeared from class and could not be found. Later that day, a security found her body in the toilet. That yet another child has died under such tragic and horrific circumstances is a terrible indictment on the Department of Basic Education, both nationally and provincially.

President Ramaphosa has promised the country a ‘new deal’ but has yet to denounce and speak out on the conditions in schools that condemn millions of children to shocking and unsafe learning conditions. The ‘new deal’ must encompass a plan to urgently fix the basic education system.

The undignified, horrific death of five year Michael Komape who fell into a collapsed pit latrine at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo on 20 January 2014, should have been a strident wake-up call for those who are tasked with ensuring the safety of our children in schools. Michael’s death should have been a catalyst for a “Never, never and never again” moment. Instead, the Department of Basic Education in Limpopo continued to deny culpability. SECTION27 and the Komape family patiently await judgement in the Michael Komape matter which we hope will also be a clear instruction to government to take with the utmost seriousness its duties regarding sanitation and hygiene in schools.

Now more recently the National department has moved to oppose the case brought by Equal Education and Basic Education For All (BEFA) which was admitted at a friend of the court in the Equal Education and another vs Minister of Basic Education and others.

In this case, Equal Education has challenged the constitutional validity of several of the regulations of the Minimum Norms and Standards Policy. SECTION27, representing BEFA, focused its arguments challenging regulation 4(5)(a) of the policy, which effectively makes the provision of adequate school infrastructure subject to available resources and the co-operation of other government agencies and entities.

That these organisations were forced to resort to the courts to ensure the rights of learners as conferred by Constitution are upheld, is a sad indictment on the Department’s wholly inadequate response to the needs of school children particularly from poor, rural households.

We call on the Minister of Education to announce a plan to eradicate unsafe pit toilets by the end of 2018 and we call on private sector companies to lend a hand to make this possible.

Ends

  • Basic Education For All (BEFA),
  • SECTION27
  • Treatment Action Campaign

For more information contact:

Ntsiki Mpulo

0827827143

mpulo@section27.org.za

Mark Heywood

0836348806

heywood@section27.org.za