Today more than 2 000 students and parent members of Equal Education (EE) marched to the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) in central Johannesburg to demand decent and dignified sanitation in Gauteng schools. A memorandum was handed over to Gauteng MEC for Education Mr. Panyaza Lesufi, who used the opportunity to announce major improvements to school sanitation that stand to benefit around 600 000 working class and poor students in Gauteng. This is a hard-won victory for Equal Education’s year-long activism on this issue.
MEC Lesufi announced at the march that the GDE had identified 578 schools in Gauteng in need of sanitation upgrades – at a cost of R150 million – and that 406 of these schools had already been repaired. The MEC publicly committed the GDE to unblock all school toilets in Gauteng by 30 November, and stated that all 51 schools in Tembisa would have adequate and fully-functioning sanitation by 19 September.
Equal Education first took up this campaign in August 2013, when our members in Tembisa started a two week sanitation audit of 11 high schools in the area. They found that at over half of these schools, more than 100 girls or boys had to share a single working toilet. This information formed the basis of our demands to then Gauteng MEC for Education Barbara Creecy for an emergency intervention in Tembisa schools, and a long-term plan to provide adequate sanitation to all Gauteng schools.
After initially ignoring our demands, and in response to public pressure, MEC Creecy responded by providing 10 pre-fabricated toilet blocks to five schools in the area in January 2014. She also provided 10 more pre-fabricated toilet blocks to other schools in Gauteng, and sent contractors to do toilet repairs in Tembisa and at 60 other schools in the province. However, by the time that MEC Creecy left office in May 2014, the prefabricated toilet blocks in Tembisa were still closed, and many schools in the area still required urgent repairs.
EE met with MEC Lesufi on 8 July 2014, soon after he took office as the new MEC for Education in Gauteng to raise the issue of the sanitation crisis in Gauteng schools, and to demand action. In response, MEC Lesufi came to Tembisa on 15 July and publicly promised to fix all Gauteng toilets by 31 August 2014. Yet, during the first week of September, EE members counted 200 blocked or closed toilets in Tembisa alone. A two week audit of high schools in Daveyton and Kwa-Thema, conducted in August, also revealed that on any given day, up to 80 school toilets are blocked or closed in these areas.
In response, on 1 September 2014 EE wrote to MEC Lesufi to say that we would be marching to his office on 13 September. In the two weeks that followed, contractors appeared overnight in Tembisa schools to clean and unblock toilets, open the prefabricated toilets, fix pipes, paint walls and provide new taps and windows. EE members in Kwa-Thema and Daveyton also reported contractors arriving at some of their schools.
We applaud MEC Lesufi for engaging with us on this issue in a positive and constructive manner, and for prioritising the improvement of sanitation in township schools in Gauteng. As MEC Lesufi stated at the march today, “Sanitation is dignity”. We were encouraged by his statement that he will not tolerate any delays from his own officials in delivering proper sanitation to students, and we thank him for providing a detailed breakdown of the continuing sanitation upgrades to the 51 schools in Tembisa.
As Equal Education we are committed to seeing this issue through. There is much work to be done. We are therefore demanding that by 27 September 2014:
1. The GDE unblock and open all toilets in Tembisa to address the acute sanitation crisis there
2. The GDE release a costed plan to permanently address the issue of school sanitation in Gauteng. This plan should define a progressive standard regarding the supply of toilets, water supply and sanitation materials (eg. soap, toilet paper and sanitary bins). It should also provide a timeline for ensuring that all schools reach this standard, and include accountability measures to ensure an open and transparent process.
We urge the GDE to adopt a standard higher than that set out in the National Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. The Norms and Standards state that a high school of 1,200 students can have 43 girls or 100 boys to a toilet. This is over 70% more girls per toilet and 100% more boys per toilet than the standards set by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the World Health Organisation. It further does not mandate that students receive basic amenities like soap and toilet paper. Without a better standard in Gauteng, the current unacceptable reality for students in township schools like Tembisa, Daveyton and Kwa-Thema will remain largely unchanged.
3. The GDE release the names of all 578 schools in Gauteng due for sanitation upgrades, and information regarding what each individual school has received or will receive, and by when they will do so.
For more information contact:
Tshepo Motsepe, Co-Head: Equal Education Gauteng: 071 886 5637
Adam Bradlow, Co-Head: Equal Education Gauteng: 072 347 3027
Nombulelo Nyathela, Equal Education Spokesperson: 060 503 4933