KENNETH MOENG MOKGATLHE: Pit latrines at schools must be eradicated
Despite government promises to eradicate pit toilets, nearly 3,000 SA state schools lack proper sanitation infrastructure, risking the health and safety of pupils and teachers
As we conclude what we still like to call Human Rights Month in SA, many of our rural schools do not have proper water and sanitation infrastructure. They remain dependent on pit latrines due to either inadequate water supplies or lack of proper sanitation infrastructure.
The department of basic education has a duty to eradicate all existing pit latrines for the sake of preserving the human rights of both pupils and teachers in our schools.
The case of Michael Komape, a five-year-old pupil who drowned in a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village, Polokwane, on January 20 2014, has received international media attention. As a result, government was forced to fast-track its plans to eradicate pit latrines in all SA schools, but that still seems a distant dream that is unlikely to be realised in our lifetime.
The new toilets that were intended to replace pit latrines in many schools in villages around North West have been built, but have not worked due to various factors. In one school, the contractor did not complete the project while others are struggling to get water supplies. This means the status quo has not changed, as both pupils and teachers are subjected to the same inhumane treatment by a government that is failing to improve the working conditions of teachers and the learning environment for pupils. Why is this not declared a state of disaster?
Whether there was foul play in the untimely death of the four-year-old Langalam Viki in the Eastern Cape, as suggested by basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, is neither here nor there. The reality is that government has failed to do away with pit latrines, which is a violation of the constitution. Instead of building proper sanitation for kids and teachers, it spends its time making excuses for not doing what it is supposed to do.
According to Sibusiso Khasa of Amnesty International SA, there are nearly 3,000 state schools in the country that still have pit toilets. There is clearly no political will to improve the learning and teaching environment in rural schools; the governing ANC assumed control of government 30 years ago, yet we still find so many schools without proper sanitation. There is no more effective way to destroy a country than not to invest in education. Instead our leaders just see another opportunity to loot.
Government has failed to do away with pit latrines, which is a violation of the constitution.
I visited some primary schools on farms in North West near the small town of Groot Marico. They boast newly built toilets that are locked and not in use, because the contractor refuses to install water-supply infrastructure, saying he was only contracted to build the toilets. While the contractor is at odds with the authorities, the children and teachers are still subjected to hazardous and dangerously unsanitary pit toilets.
We generally only hear about one disadvantage of pit latrines: the danger of small children falling in and drowning — but what about the many others? Those who have used pit toilets for most of their lives can tell you how unhealthy they are. Pit toilets allow microscopic disease-causing contaminants to leach into the groundwater. Contaminated water subjects people, especially children, to the risk of developing life-threatening diarrheal diseases. There is also the inherent problem of disease-carrying insects breeding in pit toilets.
To build proper sanitation infrastructure, one needs a reliable water supply. If villages and townships are struggling to even get water for cooking and drinking supplied by government, what are the chances of rural schools getting water to flush toilets? The schools are part of communities, which means the challenges they face directly affect those attending schools.
• Mokgatlhe is an independent writer and political analyst based in the North West.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.