Safety and Sanitation

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A lack of security at and on the way to school, teacher shortages, discriminatory teenage pregnancy policies, the illegal use of corporal punishment, and poor sanitation are key problems affecting schools across the Western Cape.


In order to study these problems and building on previous work done (see “History of the Campaign” below), Equal Education (EE) Western Cape launched a social audit between September and November 2015. Working with partner organisations, EE audited 244 schools serving 217,388 learners. The audit process involved interviewing administrators, recording of physical observations at schools, and having learners complete questionnaires about their experience of education conditions. Given the large size of the sample – 912 learner questionnaires, 220 administrator interviews, and 229 physical inspections – as well as the similarity between the sample’s demographics and the population of schools, it was possible to make strong estimates as to the conditions of schools in the Western Cape.


Some of the audit’s key findings were:

1. At 74% of schools that we audited, there was no toilet for learners with disabilities. This was even worse for rural schools, where 86% had no toilet for disabled learners

2. The WCED says it will not provide infrastructure upgrades for 266 schools built on private land – these schools won’t receive any new buildings, proper toilets and fences, libraries and laboratories. Many of these schools are built from inappropriate and dangerous materials like asbestos

3. Inadequate and unequal access to sanitary pads and bins, where richer schools have far better access than rural and township schools

4. Many schools have broken toilets because there are too many learners per toilet, and not enough money to hire cleaners

5. 57% of Western Cape schools do not meet the WCED minimum of one toilet for every 35 learners and there is no standard ratio of cleaning staff to school population

6. Less than half (47%) of schools have a full-time security guard

7. Corporal punishment takes place at 83% of schools in the sample.

8. Four out of 5 learners report that teachers use sticks, batons, pipes, and other objects to hit them

9. While 98% of schools were fenced, 42% of schools have holes in their fences.

10. Learners reported incidences of sexual assault at 16% of schools in the sample.


With the report as a basis, in late 2016 EE members in the Western Cape identified 20 initial demands; requesting urgent feedback from the Western Cape Education Department, the Western Cape Department of Community Safety, the Department of Basic Education, and the South African Police Services. To date we haven’t received an adequate response. The campaign continues.

Detailed History of The Campaign

What did learners initially have to say about sanitation conditions in their schools in the Western Cape?

In September 2013, Equal Education members (known as Equalisers) at high schools in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein, Nyanga, Strand and the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, identified poor sanitation conditions as a serious infrastructure problem in their schools. This came after over three years of campaigning for the promulgation of comprehensive Regulations for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.


Equalisers investigated infrastructure conditions at their respective schools by surveying and interviewing their peers and teachers. The process identified poor and inadequate sanitation provision as a critical issue. Equalisers described a dire situation in which they often lack access to working toilets/basins, toilet paper, sanitary bins. The hygiene of the facilities is questionable, with strong smells extending the problem into the classroom.


Equaliser descriptions of impact of poor sanitation:

“Our toilets are blocked and they need to be cleaned”

“Our sinks from the toilets are mostly blocked. Most of the time the toilet is flowing, is always flooded with dirty water”

“When we are in the classrooms, we must not open the door and windows because of the smell”

“Half of the toilets do flush and half of them do not flush”

It was evident that sanitation conditions in schools affected learners’ ability to focus, and their sense of safety and health.


At the time what was the state of sanitation in Western Cape schools?

The sanitation conditions reported by Equalisers indicated that their schools generally do not meet Western Cape Education Department standards that “bathrooms must be clean, safe, functioning and well supplied with toilet paper and sanitary bins [1]”. We surveyed 124 high school learners in 17 schools between 1 October and 11 October 2013.  We compared our data to a 2011 school sanitation Cape Times investigation conducted in 14 primary schools. The comparison shows that sanitation conditions are not being met across schools in Cape Town’s townships.

Cape Times’ 2011 Primary School Investigation Equal Education’s 2013 Secondary School Survey
How many schools had sanibins? Only 9 of 14 schools had sanibins Only 11 of 17 schools had sanibins
How many schools had toilet paper available in classrooms? 13 of 14 schools only had toilet paper in classrooms, not toilets 5 of 17 schools had toilet paper in classrooms, not toilets
How many schools had soap in the toilets? 0 schools had soap in the toilets 1 school had soap in the toilet


We also found…..

  • 81% of learners said toilets stink all the time or sometimes in their schools
  • 66% of learners said some or all of their toilet doors do not have locks on them
  • 93% of learners said there is no toilet paper in bathrooms
  • 58% of learners said they had to stand in a long queue sometimes or all the times to use the restrooms


While the guidelines set by the Western Cape Education Department are vague, it is apparent that many schools did not meet the stated guidelines. Key guideline provisions are:

  • One toilet per 35 learners
  • One washbasin per 60 learners
  • All toilets and washbasins should be in clean, working order
  • Learners must be provided with access to proper toilet paper to prevent blockages
  • Learners must be provided with soap and clean water to wash hands after using the toilet
  • Sanitary bins should be provided in all female toilets to prevent blockages


How did Equalisers initially show their commitment to improving sanitation conditions?

As Equalisers investigated and discussed the sanitation issue, they acknowledged the role learners play in contributing to the poor state of sanitation conditions in schools. In order to demonstrate their commitment to improving and maintaining sanitation conditions, Equalisers organised the cleaning of toilet facilities at 14 schools. Many principals, teachers and caretakers supported this activity and commended the Equalisers for taking the time before their end of year exams.