SECTION27 prepares to take Limpopo Department of Education to court of over poor sanitation, again – this time in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic
3 June 2020 – SECTION27 is representing the School Governing Body (SGB) of Kharivha Primary School (“Kharivha”) in Ndovhada village in Limpopo, a school which is nowhere near ready to be reopened safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Kharivha, learners and staff were forced to use unlawful pit toilets which have subsequently been demolished. The school lacks running water on the school property, and SGB members tell SECTION27 that only 6 disposable masks were delivered for the school’s staff and that the school only received seven 1 litre bottles of sanitisers for approximately 95 learners. No masks have been delivered for learners.
The DBE has set out the safety preconditions for the reopening of schools during the COVID-19 disaster in its Standard Operating Procedures for the Prevention, Containment and Management of COVID-19 in Schools and School Communities (SOPs). Key pillars of the safety procedures therein are adequate sanitation infrastructure (including safe toilets, clean and reliable water supply and sanitiser facilities), personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing measures, adequate orientation and screening for COVID-19. The SOPs note that these key pillars must be adhered to.
The DBE has promised not only that it would deliver two cloth masks per learner and staff member, but also that it would deliver portable toilets to schools with pit toilets and water tanks to schools without water.
Because Kharivha has only been given masks for its staff, and not for its learners, as well as lacking sanitary toilets and water facilities, the school does not meet the safety preconditions for reopening. But no portable toilets, water tanks or masks for learners have been delivered by the DBE.
The sanitation issues at Kharivha have a long history. The school has two unlawful pit toilets on the property which were constructed in 2000, as well as 4 dilapidated and unsafe ‘Enviro-Loos’ which were built over 30 years ago. Because the enviro-loos have reached their capacity to hold waste, as well as being structurally unsafe, learners and staff have been reliant on the unlawful pit toilets.
On 20 May 2020, the circuit manager in Kharivha’s area informed the SGB that they would have to demolish the pit toilets on the site to meet the safety requirements for the COVID-19 period. The SGB complied, and the unsafe pit toilets were demolished the next day. The SGB was informed that the school would have to wait for funding to build new toilets to come through from the school allocation in terms of the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. The SGB has started building new pit toilets at its own expense, because their cashflow is restricted: even though pit toilets are unlawful, they are all that the school can afford. The SGB hopes that the they will receive funding from the DBE soon. As schools are being forced to reallocate their existing budgets to fund the COVID-19 response measures, it is unclear where funding for these new toilets will come from. We hope that the DBE clarifies this and assists.
While new toilets are being constructed, there are no functional toilets for learners and staff at Kharivha. We have written to the DBE as well as the Limpopo Department of Education (LDOE) about our concerns about the school’s readiness twice, and received no response. We have demanded that a water tank, portable toilets and other necessaries be delivered to the school before it opens on 8 June 2020, failing which we will go to court to ensure that the government complies with its undertakings to ensure the safety of the schooling community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have been campaigning for lawful sanitation in schools for five years and counting, since the tragic and undignified death by drowning in a collapsed pit toilet of 5 year old Michael Komape. We had hoped that the DBE would fulfil its promises to deliver safe and decent sanitation given the urgency during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We hope it still does to avoid future litigation.
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