Despite government’s repeated promises to upgrade sanitation facilities in South African schools, pit toilets are all that is available to 200 learners at the school, and only one is usable.
At Eastern Cape’s Mthetho Senior Primary School in Dutywa near Mthatha, 45 Grade 7 learners are sharing one pit toilet, while teachers rely on two toilets built for a community hall. According to teachers at the school, the pit toilets have broken seats and doors or are full.
The school normally has 179 learners and 12 staff including a clerk and meal servers.
Just last week before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure of public schools, teachers at Mthetho had to hide behind the classrooms to relieve themselves because they could not access the community hall. They do not have keys to the community hall and can only access the toilets when the hall is open.
The community hall was built inside the school yard by SANRAL two years ago. The hall has flush toilets and two of the toilets were given to teachers to use.
Elitsha visited the school last week but could not enter the school premises since no visitors are allowed in schools to prevent the spread of covid-19.
A teacher who wanted to remain anonymous said the toilets have been in a bad condition since she joined the school in 2012. She said the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) once promised to build new toilets but they are still waiting.
“I do not know since when these learners started using this one toilet but I started to notice them last month when Grade 7 came back to school. I decided to go check the conditions of the other toilets and they are bad. These toilets are hazardous to our learners and some have no doors. We are facing the pandemic time of covid-19 now and we cannot afford to have such toilets,” said the teacher.
“This week we were expecting Grade 3 learners to return and that was going to increase the number of learners to 63 but no single learner from Grade 3 pitched and we do not know why. Some schools in the Eastern Cape received mobile toilets but in our school no mobile toilet was delivered,” she said.
“As for teachers, we do not have toilets at all and when we have access to the community hall we must carry a water bucket because the toilets no longer flush…. As you can see we already started peeing behind classrooms,” said the teacher.
Last week Tuesday, a group of learners led by Equal Education (EE) marched to the provincial office of Education in King William’s town complaining about the same issues faced by Mthetho.
EE members handed over a memorandum demanding the department look into the issue of water, sanitation and poor infrastructure at Eastern Cape schools.
In their memorandum, EE mentioned 10 schools in the province which they said have no form of water and sanitation or proper infrastructure.
They also invited the ECDOE’s superintendent-general, Themba Kojana, and MEC for Education, Fundile Gade, to join them for a virtual meeting to engage directly with EE members to hear the cries of learners and parents.
Before schools re-opened on 20 June, Gade said only 5% of schools were not ready due to issues of infrastructure and water.
At a media briefing held on Friday by ECDOE, Kojana said the issue of water, sanitation and infrastructure is faced by a number of provinces and not only Eastern Cape. He said the Sanitation Appropriate for Education and Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery initiatives are focusing on the backlogs.
In its statement, EE said based on the statistics from the ECDOE on 1 July, 756 schools have an inconsistent water supply, 508 schools have no toilets and 1,598 rely on simple pit latrines.
EE Eastern Cape organiser, Itumeleng Mothlabane, said they are very disappointed with the reports that keep coming up about the lack of water and sanitation at schools. He said the statistics from the ECDOE regarding the number schools that have no water and sanitation keep on changing.
“In 2018 in the Norms and Standards report, the department said no school in the Eastern Cape has water and sanitation issues and those that are facing infrastructure problems will be rationalised. But the data now has changed. We are calling the ECDOE to monitor the implementation agencies because it is clear that they are not in touch with what is happening on the ground,” she said.
Six years ago, Michael Komape died in a pit latrine toilet near Polokwane in Limpopo and in 2016, Lumka Mkhethwa also fell into and drowned in a pit latrine at her school in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.