Call for immediate eradication of pit latrines at schools

A parent shows one of the pit toilet’s used by pupils at a school. File Picture:Dumisani Dube/Independent Newspapers

A parent shows one of the pit toilet’s used by pupils at a school. File Picture:Dumisani Dube/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 26, 2024


Civil society group Equal Education (EE) says the Department of Basic Education (DBE) must prioritise the installation of safe, appropriate ablution facilities in schools that still have pit toilets.

The group commenting after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the department would ensure that the remainder of schools with pit toilets will be upgraded with safe ablution facilities in the 2024/25 financial year.

Equal Education researcher, Kimberley Khumalo, and EE’s head of National Organising, Zanele Modise, said the department had missed several deadlines to deal with the toilets since the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure – banning plain pit toilets – took effect in 2013.

The minister said last year’s deadline was not met due to National Treasury budget cuts during the 2023/24 financial year.

Motshekga was responding to a question by the ANC’s Bafuze Yabo, who sits on the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, regarding the total number of inappropriate and unsafe ablution facilities in schools and the progress made in replacing the unsafe facilities.

She said when the department launched the Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) initiative in 2018, the programme initially identified 3 898 schools dependent on basic pit toilets. An additional 809 were identified during the process of monitoring.

The minister said 867 of the identified schools did not proceed to implementation of new facilities as they did not meet the requirements for various reasons.

“3 379 schools proceeded to implementation, and 3 003 of these schools have been provided with appropriate sanitation.”

She said the balance of the schools would be attended to in the 2024/25 financial year.

Equal Education said that in terms of the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure regulations, schools without access to sanitation must be provided with appropriate sanitation facilities by November 29, 2016. Others had to have an adequate supply of sanitation by 29 November, 2020.

“However, despite these very clear legal time frames, there are still hundreds of schools, mainly in rural Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, that have to contend with unsafe plain pit toilets while the DBE continues to arbitrarily set new and unreasonable deadlines for when these schools will receive safe and appropriate sanitation facilities.”

According to the organisation, the self-imposed deadlines set by the DBE for the eradication of plain pit toilets through the SAFE initiative had shifted on several occasions.

“In 2020, Minister Angie Motshekga stated that plain pit toilets would be eradicated by March 2022. In April 2023 a new deadline was set for the end of the 2023/24 financial year and most recently yet another deadline has been set for 2024/25.”

Equal Education said the organisation acknowledged the importance of more funding being provided to the education sector, and was constantly advocating for the right to education to be protected and prioritised by the national and provincial treasuries.

“However, these funds must be spent correctly and efficiently. The DBE has been accused of being one of “the worst” offenders among government departments when it comes to fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

“Provinces such as the Eastern Cape and Limpopo have the most significant plain pit toilet backlogs and yet they are constantly cited for irregular and wasteful expenditure.”

Equal Education demanded the eradication of all illegal plain pit toilets immediately.

Yabo could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The Mercury