9 March 2023, Johannesburg – The Centre for Child Law (CCL) and SECTION27 condemn the devastatingly slow pace of the Department of Basic Education in eradicating pit latrine toilets in public schools. It has been almost 9 years since young Michael Komape and 5 years since Lumka Mthethwa died a horrific death after falling into a pit latrine toilet and drowning in a public school in Limpopo and Eastern Cape respectively. Today, we have learnt of yet another young life cut short in exactly the same manner; the lifeless body of a 4-year-old was discovered in a pit latrine toilet in a public school in the Eastern Cape.
On 28 February 2023, the DispatchLive reported that the Eastern Cape province forfeited R100 million of the Education Infrastructure Grant meant for public school infrastructure. The money was simply not spent by the end of the last financial year while the state of school infrastructure in the Eastern Cape is devastating. With over 5000 schools in the Eastern Cape, over 1000 of those schools still use pit latrine toilets, a death trap which continues to swallow the lives of children. The issue of dilapidated and dangerous school infrastructure and inadequate sanitation is not unique to the Eastern Cape.
It would appear that access to basic education in public schools in South Africa comes at a heavy price due to the Department of Basic Education’s failure to ensure adequate sanitation and the eradication of pit latrine toilets in schools across the four corners of the Republic. It remains a huge concern that the lives of the most vulnerable members of society, children, are lost due to the failures and shortfalls of the Department. The right to life is a constitutionally guaranteed human right and failure to respect, protect and promote this right results in all the other rights in the Bill of Rights being futile and non-existent.
The CCL and SECTION27 have relied on the courts to order and mandate the Department, particularly in the Limpopo province, to act in a speedy manner in eradicating pit latrine toilets from all public schools. In a structural order granted in the matter of Komape and others v Minister of Basic Education and Others, the court ordered that the Limpopo Department of Education provide a revised plan and report to the court on the progress made in the eradication of pit latrines and other inadequate sanitation at public schools in Limpopo. Despite the order, we have seen the slow progress of the eradication of the toilets and await the 31
March 2023 deadline, by which time the LDoE must eradicate pit latrine toilets at all public schools that only use pit latrines.
It would appear that even court orders receive a “cold-shoulder” as children continue to lose their lives as a result of these dangerous and undignified structures called pit latrine toilets. In 2018, President Ramaphosa and the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga made a flowery presentation about how millions of rands have been raised and claimed to be “paying a dividend of democracy through education infrastructure”.
Whilst the Department is dragging its feet and not putting plans into action as suggested in its “Sanitation Appropriate for Education” (SAFE) initiative, the right to life, human dignity and basic education remain heavily infringed. The Department seems not to appreciate that when dealing with matters involving children, section 28 of the Constitution mandates that action must be taken in a manner that respects and promotes the best interest of the child. Having a plan with an abbreviation “SAFE” is a true mockery of democracy and blowing hot air on court orders. This is because the condition in which children in public schools find themselves in is the direct opposite of safe.
The lack of a speedily and child-centered-approach by the Department in dealing with the issue of pit toilets in public schools is unconstitutional and is a gross violation of fundamental human rights. It is unacceptable that with the existence of judicial decisions relating to the Department’s multiple and appalling failures to ensure safe school infrastructure, we wake to school infrastructure being in the spotlight again because another child died in a school pit latrine. As the court stated in Komape “The rights of the children who are attending school presently are being ignored. They are in constant danger when attending school and when they are compelled to utilize these dangerous toilets, some of which also do not afford adequate privacy. The dignity of many learners are seriously impaired when they use these facilities. It cannot be countenanced. Another unfortunate and tragic death of a child at school, due to dangerous pit toilets will be catastrophe which should be avoided at all costs.”
We urge the Department to respect, promote and prioritise the right to basic education and further ensure that this fundamental human right is accessed in an environment which is safe for children and promotes their right to life and human dignity.
For media queries, contact | Pearl Nicodemus (SECTION27) | firstname.lastname@example.org | 082 298 2636 OR Stanley Malematja (Centre for Child Law) | Stanley.email@example.com | 084 906 5773