18 November 2022
Media statement: Release of Equal Education’s report on access to water and toilets in Limpopo schools: Tshedimošo Mo Dikolong Tša Go Hloka Seriti (A Review of Schools Without Dignity)
“The findings of this report highlight that having access to water and sanitation contributes to the learning experience of learners in school. The lack of access, or even limited access, to safe, proper and sufficient water and sanitation facilities can have negative consequences, including learning time lost to absenteeism; feelings of discomfort, particularly for girl learners; and inability to perform key hygiene practices.” – Tshedimošo mo dikolong tsa go hloka seriti 2020.
Tomorrow, Saturday 19 November, Equal Education (EE) Limpopo will release our report on the state of water supply and toilet facilities in schools in the province – Tshedimošo Mo Dikolong Tša Go Hloka Seriti. This report is an update of our 2017 report Dikolo tša go Hloka Seriti (Schools Without Dignity). Our most recent visits to inspect the infrastructure at a sample of 15 schools assessed whether the water supply and the state of the toilets had changed over time.
The Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (school infrastructure law) was adopted by government in 2013, and set down – with clear deadlines – the kind of infrastructure that every school should have. The school infrastructure law states that all schools should have had some access to water, toilets and electricity by 2016. The law also explicitly bans the use of plain pit toilets in schools.
In 2017, prompted by calls from EE’s high-school going members (Equalisers) we visited 18 schools in Ga-Mashashane in Limpopo’s Capricorn district, to investigate whether reliable water supply and safe toilets had been provided to these schools. We found infrastructure to be in an appalling condition in many of these schools, including:
Learners having limited or no access to water; and
Learners using plain pit toilets as their only form of sanitation or being exposed to dangerous and/or broken enviro-loos and ventilated improved pit toilets.
The state of the toilet facilities at these 18 schools were highlighted in our 2017 report, Dikolo tša go Hloka Seriti.
In February 2020, EE and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) re-visited 15 of the 18 schools. The purpose of these visits was to monitor whether access to water and toilets had improved in these schools, in line with the school infrastructure law. The visits were also motivated by our involvement as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the Michael Komape court case. The case was launched in 2015 at the Polokwane High Court against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) by the family of Michael Komape – a five-year-old learner who lost his life after he fell into a pit toilet at his school in 2014. The Komape family, represented by SECTION27, went to court for compensation for grief and suffering because they lost their child under such awful circumstances. In addition, the purpose of the case was also to get the DBE and LDoE to fix school toilets throughout the province. In 2018 the Polokwane High Court ordered the LDoE and DBE to develop a reasonable plan for getting rid of all pit toilets in all Limpopo schools (the structural order). The information that we gathered during our 2020 school visits was included in our supplementary affidavit to the court, and we argued that the DBE and LDoE had not fulfilled their constitutional duty to provide safe infrastructure for learners in Limpopo.
Through interviews with learners and school staff and inspecting the infrastructure of the schools, we found that six of the 15 schools had only plain pit toilets as their form of sanitation and two schools had no access to water. We collected data from 67 toilet blocks, which consisted of 274 toilets across the 15 schools we inspected. We found that:
145 of the 274 toilets were inappropriate (i.e. plain pit toilets or broken ventilated improved pit toilets);
92 of the 274 toilets were classified as dangerous (posing safety hazards in terms of collapsing walls, collapsing roofs etc);
108 of the 274 toilet facilities offered no privacy (i.e. toilets having no doors);
26 of the total 56 water taps we found across the schools were broken and not working.
While there have been improvements since our initial visits to these schools in 2017, reducing infrastructure backlogs at schools in Limpopo has been a painfully slow process. According to the National Education Management System (NEIMS), between 2016 and 2021 (a five year period!) only 700 schools, using only plain pit toilets as a form of sanitation, were provided with proper toilets. The reality of unreliable water supply and unsafe and undignified toilet facilities for learners remains an ongoing challenge in Limpopo. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the extent of this crisis, when over 1000 temporary water and toilet facilities had to be provided to Limpopo’s schools. Until the pandemic, many schools were forced to get by with poor water supply and toilet facilities.
The LDoE has a long history of slow infrastructure delivery and not fulfilling its constitutional duty to ensure learners have the right to a basic education which is accessible, equitable and equal. It is urgent that the LDoE provides schools with enough, safe toilet facilities, as well as access to a reliable water supply, in order to meet the necessary hygiene and safety standards that contribute to an environment which makes learning possible.
The launch of our report will be in the form of a panel discussion on the impact of water and toilets on the experiences of learners. Kimberely Khumalo, our researcher will also present findings from the report.
Date: Saturday 19 November 2022
Time: 10am – 2pm
Venue for panel discussion: Botsikana Secondary School, Ga-Mashashane, Limpopo
Panel discussion speakers:
A Limpopo Department of Education representative
School representatives (principals, an SGB member)
Equalisers (EE learner members)
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) email@example.com or 082 924 1352