Equal Education (EE) notes with concern The Sowetan's recent reports that the school sanitation crisis continues six months after the Gauteng Department of Education's (GDE) self-imposed deadline for fixing it.
In response to EE's ongoing sanitation campaign, Gauteng MEC for Education Mr. Panyaza Lesufi announced in September 2014 that he would spend R150 million to upgrade the sanitation conditions at 580 schools serving about 500,000 students.
As early as November last year, EE reported that this money had provided substantial relief to students in Tembisa, including upgrading toilets, pipes, taps, ceilings, roofs and tiling. These upgrades were a hard-fought victory for EE's members in Gauteng and we applaud MEC Lesufi for this action.
Yet, even at the time, we noted that challenges remain. For example, many schools did not have enough toilets and students still lacked access to toilet paper, soap and sanitary pads.
Today, The Sowetan has reported these issues remain throughout the province.
The article quotes MEC Lesufi as blaming school management for the remaining challenges given that the GDE already invested in fixing the toilets. MEC Lesufi is reported as saying, "You can't change the toilets of the schools and the leadership of the schools don't maintain them." MEC Lesufi is correct that schools and communities must act to maintain their toilets.
However, the Gauteng Provincial Government could do more to assist schools in maintaining toilets through immediately taking the following six actions:
- Release Gauteng's plan for implementing Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, binding national legislation that establishes minimum standards that all schools must meet with regards to issues like water and sanitation. The law mandates that all provinces must have developed these plans by 29 November 2014. To date, the GDE has ignored requests to publicly release these plans
- Fully fund the GDE's request for R350 million to maintain school toilets throughout Gauteng. (See GDE correspondence with EE about its funding requirements). On 13 March, EE made a submission to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature's Finance Committee detailing concerns about under spending on maintenance both this year and in the long-term (until Financial Year 2017/2018). The Province must fully fund maintenance requirements. In addition, the Province must ring-fence this money to ensure it is spent on maintenance. In tandem, it should increase its oversight of school spending.
- Establish a Gauteng appropriate standard for sanitation, particularly with regards to the ratio of students per toilet. The GDE should also release timelines for when schools will reach these standards. The Norms and Standards state that a secondary school with 1,200 students – like those in Tembisa – can have up to one toilet per 43 girls and one toilet per 100 boys. This is almost double the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of 25 girls per toilet and 50 boys per one toilet plus one urinal. The high ratios of students per toilet permitted in the Norms and Standards entail heavy usage conditions. This makes it very difficult to properly maintain toilet conditions.
- Establish a standard for the ratio of maintenance staff per students. This is a recommendation that the GDE's own consultants have endorsed (See Consultant Report). At present none exists, which means that schools have varying ability to maintain school toilets. A common standard will allow all schools an equal chance at maintaining school toilets
- Publicly provide a model budget for how schools in townships like Tembisa can afford to purchase critical items like soap, sanitary pads and toilet paper. The GDE has acknowledged that the lack of toilet paper in schools is a major challenge (See GDE sanitation report). In the absence of toilet paper, students use other items which clog the toilets. The GDE has stated that schools must use their own money to purchase items like toilet paper. Yet, many school principals state that they do not have enough money to do so. The GDE should release a budget that demonstrates how schools could afford to buy these necessary items.
- Publicly begin blacklisting contractors who under perform. The GDE's own consultants have indicated that the Department must do more to hold its contractors to account (See Consultants Report). Maintaining a public blacklist of contractors who do not meet the standard is an important first step.
EE launched its sanitation campaign almost a year and a half ago because an audit of the school conditions in Tembisa found that it was commonplace for over 100 students to share a single working toilet. After repeated requests for action to address this situation were ignored, 2,000 EE members from Tembisa, Kwa-Thema, Tsakane and Daveyton marched to the offices of the GDE on 13 September 2014. In response, MEC Lesufi made his public promise to fix 580 schools.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Tshepo Motsepe, Co-Head Equal Education Gauteng – 071-886-5637
Adam Bradlow, Co-Head Equal Education Gauteng – 072-347-3027