Our Campaigns for Proper and Dignified School Sanitation
The poor state of school sanitation hurts students’ ability to learn, puts them at increased health risk, infringes on their safety and security and denigrates their dignity. The death of 5-year-old Grade R learner Michael Komape at the bottom of a pit toilet at his school in Chebeng village, Limpopo in January 2013 is a tragic reminder of the urgency of improving school sanitation. Yet, according to the Department of Basic Education’s National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) 2014 report, nearly half of all schools use pit toilets. Nearly 500 schools have no sanitation facilities at all.
In Gauteng and the Western Cape, we are running active campaigns for proper and dignified school sanitation. Equal Education members have marched, conducted one of South Africa’s largest social audits, picketed and metwithgovernment officials and members of provincial legislatures to advance these campaigns. We have met with principals and School Governing Bodies to improve school maintenance, run workshops for over 5,000 classmates to emphasize the importance of proper sanitation and organised our fellow students to clean our toilet blocks.
Our campaigns have helped over 500,000 students gain better school sanitation. Yet, our struggle continues. Please read about our Gauteng and Western Cape Sanitation Campaigns to learn more.
Equalisers investigated infrastructure conditions at their respective schools by surveying and interviewing their peers and teachers. An overwhelming response 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 and the hygiene of the facilities is questionable, with strong smells extending the problem into the classroom.
Equalisers described the 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 is evident that sanitation conditions in schools affect learners’ ability to focus, sense of safety and health. This problem is widespread and needs urgent attention to minimize the negative impact on learners.
What is the state of sanitation in Western Cape schools?
The sanitation conditions reported by equalizers indicate 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 ”. We surveyed 124 high school learners in 17 schools between 1 October and 11 October 2013. We compared our data to a 2011 Cape Times investigation completed into school sanitation 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
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 show their commitment to improving sanitation conditions?
As equalisers investigated and discussed the sanitation issue, they acknowledged the role of learners who vandalise in contributing to the poor state of sanitation conditions in schools. In order to demonstrate their commitment to improving and maintaining sanitation conditions, equalizers organized the cleaning of toilet facilities at 14 schools. Many principals, teachers and caretakers supported this activity and commended the equalizers for taking the time before their end of year exams.
What are the next steps of our campaign?
We will engage with district and provincial authorities to demand decisive action to restore the dignity of our learners. It is unimaginable that for many learners who suffer terrible sanitation conditions in their communities, the school environment does not provide more dignified facilities. We are ready to take to the streets if need be.
Sanitation conditions in schools work in tandem with other issues in the school and community environment. The scarcity of locks on toilet doors creates safety risks and discourages use for some learners. The implications of these unmet needs reflect larger issues of school infrastructure and community safety . By addressing sanitation issues in schools, we can simultaneously work to solve related issues that assault the dignity and rights of learners and communities.
The WCED states that it is the responsibility of the school governing bodies (SGBs) and school management team to supervise and monitor toilet facilities. There must be greater accountability by the WCED to support and ensure SGBs and school management teams are able to meet the needs of their schools. Moreover, district and provincial governments must provide support in repairing facilities. Facilities must be in a state that is conducive to school maintenance and upkeep.
Through engagement with district and provincial authorities, we hope to develop plans that will uphold standards set by the WCED sanitation guidelines and provide support and monitoring of SGBs and school management teams in the upkeep of water and toilet facilities.
Equalisers will continue to lead efforts to improve sanitation conditions in their schools.
In August 2013, equalisers in Tembisa, a township outside of Johannesburg in Gauteng province, launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign. They vowed not to stop the campaign until all students enjoyed dignified and safe sanitation in their schools. Since then, we have conducted one of the largest social audits in South Africa. We organised a march of 2,000 Equal Education (EE) members, picketed and protested. We have met with government officials and members of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature to express our demands. Today, our campaign includes EE student members (“equalisers”), EE parent members, churches and community organisations in over 20 townships in all regions of Gauteng including Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Sedibeng and the West Rand.
In response to our campaign, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has already spent R150 million to upgrade the sanitation conditions at 578 schools serving about 500,000 students. Government contractors have fixed or replaced the toilets, taps, pipes and basins at these schools. Some schools have received new toilet blocks altogether. Politicians and government officials throughout the GDE have spoken out on the need for principals and School Governing Bodies to better maintain toilets, even issuing a new manualto guide schools on how to do this.
More recently, the GDE committed to spending R50 million to fix the toilets at the 50 worst schools in Gauteng. It promised to fix all the matric toilet blocks in the province. In addition, the GDE promised to undertake significant policy changes by 16 June 2015 that, if implemented, will improve access to toilets, maintenance, soap, sanitary pads and toilet paper in schools.
See a history of our campaign below.
Launching the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign
In August 2013, equalisers in Tembisa, a township outside Johannesburg in Gauteng province, decided they wanted to improve to improve their schools. They conducted a survey to identify the biggest challenge they were facing. They found that poor sanitation was a major issue across all schools. In response, these equalisers launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign and promised not to stop the campaign until all students enjoyed dignified and safe sanitation conditions in their schools.
To start, equalisers recorded the state of their toilets every day, twice a day for two weeks. In total, we audited 11 high schools, or over two thirds of the high schools in Tembisa. We found that at over half the high schools we audited, more than 100 students shared a single working toilet. Many schools had broken or non-functioning taps. Some days, there was no water. Students did not have access to soap or toilet paper. Sanitary bins were full so girls threw their pads on the floor.
We met with government officials who ignored our requests to develop a plan to solve this sanitation crisis. We wrote to the then Gauteng MEC for Education Ms. Barbara Creecy because, as MEC, she was primarily responsible for solving the crisis. Yet, she ignored our letters.
In response, we publicly launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign on 19 November 2013, World Toilet Day. After strong mediacoverage, EE was invited to meet with MEC Creecy. She promised to address the crisis but refused to say how she would do so.
The Delivery of Pre-Fabricated Toilet Blocks
On 12 January 2014, MEC Creecy visited Tembisa to inspect school toilets. She announced that she would be delivering two pre-fabricated toilet blocks to five different schools in Tembisa, for a total of 10 new toilet blocks. She also said she would be sending contractors to Tembisa and other areas to address the poor state of school sanitation. At the time, EE applauded MEC Creecy’s actions while pointing out that she had not yet met our demand to issue a sanitation plan.
In the first half of 2014, EE student members continued to monitor their school toilets. The pre-fabricated toilets arrived, yet they remained closed to students. Contractors took a long time to connect the toilets to the water and electricity systems. Afterwards, principals noted that the structures were insecure and did not want to open them to students.
Equalisers Clean Their Own Toilets and Try to Build Better Maintenance Systems
In the meantime, EE members sought to improve the sanitary conditions in their schools. They organized “big cleans” where student and parent members jointly cleaned and painted the toilet blocks. They ran workshops with about 5,000 students to emphasize the importance of proper sanitation. They also sought to revitalize or establish schools’ respective Environmental Committees. These committees – either dormant or non-existent – are responsible for monitoring the maintenance of infrastructure in their schools. EE members sought to build a group of parents, teachers and community members to carry out this function. Equalisers are still working with School Governing Bodies and principals to improve school level maintenance.
MEC Lesufi Promises to Fix All School Toilets
In June 2014, Mr. Panyaza Lesufi entered office as the new Gauteng MEC for Education. On 8 July, EE met with MEC Lesufi to discuss our sanitation campaign and outstanding challenges. For example, we raised the fact that the pre-fabricated toilet blocks were still closed to students. He promised to get back to us about the pre-fabricated toilet blocks by 14 July. This deadline passed with no response.
On 15 July, MEC Lesufi came to Tembisa to promise to fix all the toilets in Gauteng by the end of August – his first 100 days in office. He also promised to provide all girl learners with dignity packs and fully implement Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. By then, EE members in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane had joined the campaign. Their toilets were also in poor conditions and they were excited to hear MEC Lesufi’s commitment to sanitation. In Tembisa, EE members were keenly aware that the pre-fabricated toilet blocks in their schools were still not open to students.
All EE members in Gauteng committed to monitoring to see if MEC Lesufi kept his promise. After his announcement, EE tried to contact MEC Lesufi multiple times to point out the continued sanitation issues in Tembisa. However, we received no response.
MEC Lesufi Falls Short of Meeting His Promise
In the first week of September, EE conducted a snap audit of the toilets in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema, Tembisa and Tsakane. Students in Tembisa counted over 200 blocked or closed toilets alone. Their prefabricated toilet blocks remained locked. In August, EE members in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane carried out a similar sanitation audit in their schools. This audit showed that on any given day, up to 80 toilets were blocked or closed in these areas. It was clear that the GDE had not delivered on MEC Lesufi’s promise. After nearly a year of campaigning, little had changed.
Marching and Winning R150 Million in Sanitation Upgradesfor 500,000 Students
EE student and parent members decided to march to the offices of the GDE to demand proper sanitation. Soon after we wrote to MEC Lesufi telling him we would march, contractors appeared at schools in Tembisa almost overnight to fix schools’ taps, toilets, basins and pipes. Contractors were also seen on the premises at a few of the schools in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane.
On 11 September, two days before the march, MEC Lesufi called an emergency press conference in Tembisa. There he announced that he would be spending R150 million to upgrade the sanitation conditions at 580 schools serving over 500,000 students around the province. On 12 September, MEC Lesufi invited EE to a meeting where he provided a progress report on the upgrades to date. The report noted that our campaign had “added pressure to ensure delivery.”
The report included the names of all schools in Tembisa that were slated for improvements, with details on the precise improvements to be performed. EE requested a similar report for all 580 schools. MEC Lesufi promised to provide this, though we never received it. (We did later receive a report on the progress of the upgrades, which encompassed all the information provided in the initial report without any further detail on the type of upgrades to be performed at the schools outside of Tembisa).
On 13 September, 2,000 EE student and parent members from Daveyton, Kwa-Thema, Tembisa and Tsakane marched to the offices of the GDE. MEC Lesufi joined the march along with members of his staff. There, he listened to EE members explain how poor sanitation affected them. He responded by repeating his R150 million promise, noting that he had allocated R15 million to fix all 51 schools in Tembisa by 19 September. The rest of the schools were to be completed by 30 November. At the march, EE committed itself to monitoring his promise to ensure upgrades were completed. Afterward, EE General Secretary Brad Brockman published a comprehensive history of the campaign up to that date.
Monitoring the Progress in Tembisa
To monitor this promise, we first conducted a smaller audit of the work at 48 of the 51 schools in Tembisa in late September and October. To do this, EE compiled a list of the promises MEC Lesufi had made to each school in Tembisa. Members there visited the schools’ bathrooms to see what had changed. We also talked to students, principals, teachers and cleaning staff to understand the problems in their toilets. The audit showed that all schools had received some improvements, even though more work remained.
Building the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition
As MEC Lesufi had promised to improve 580 schools around the province – not just in Tembisa – we decided to build the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition to monitor implementation across the province. The coalition includes churches like the South African Council of Churches Gauteng and the Moral Regeneration Movement. It includes civics like the Alexandra Civic Organisation, the Gauteng Civic Association and the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO). Finally, it includes community organisations like Sidinga Uthando and Bua Funda.
Conducting the Gauteng Schools Social Audit
In March and April 2015, 500 students, parents, teachers and grandparents who were members of organisations belonging to the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition came together to audit the learning conditions of 200,000 students in over 200 schools in more than 20 communities in Gauteng – or about 10% of the township schools in the province. This is one of the largest social audits in South Africa to date.
The audit found a sanitation crisis in our schools. In 30% of the high schools audited, over 100 learners were sharing a single working toilet. 1 in 5 toilets were either broken or locked. About 70% of schools do not provide access to soap and 40% do not provide access to toilet paper or sanitary pads. Over 25% of schools have more than 400 students for 1 maintenance staff member. The audit also identified other issues like overcrowding, lack of access to sports fields, labs and libraries as well as the mass exclusion of students with disabilities. See a summary of our results and the full report for further details on our findings.
Demanding that the Gauteng Department of Education Do More to Fix the Sanitation Crisis
On May 16 2015, we held the Gauteng Schools Social Audit Summit in Soweto to announce the results of our audit. We demanded that the GDE fix the sanitation crisis by 16 June 2015. In order to do this, we demanded that the GDE:
Establish a Gauteng-appropriate standard/ratio for sanitation. The World Health Organisation sets a ratio of 50 males to one toilet plus one urinal and 25 females to one toilet.
Set a quality standard for the ratio of maintenance staff per student. This is a recommendation that the GDE’s own consultants have endorsed.
Provide a model budget for schools to show how schools can afford soap, toilet paper, sanitary bins and other essentials. The GDE itself has acknowledged that the lack of toilet paper in schools forces students to use other materials which block toilets. Yet, principals say they don’t have the money to buy supplies. A model budget must show how schools can afford these supplies. It may show the need to increase funds to schools.
Publicly begin blacklisting contractors who under-perform. The GDE’s own consultants recommended doing this and MEC Lesufi has promised to do so.
MEC Lesufi responded to these demands by stating that he “fully accepted all [our] demands unconditionally.” He also made a series of other bold promises:
By 20 July 2015, the beginning of the third school term, he will:
Demolish the toilet blocks at the 50 worst schools in the province and build new ones. He promised to provide the list of the targeted schools to EE and challenged us to monitor to see if he kept his promise.
Refurbish the toilets and classrooms used by matrics in all township schools. This includes fixing the ceilings, floors and curtains.
Provide dignity packs to 21,000 girl learners on a monthly basis.
Replace all chalkboards in all matric classrooms in Gauteng with smartboards.
He said that from 1 May 2015, he gave all schools the power to manage their own budget (i.e. all schools are now Section 21 schools).
By 1 June, a number of schools in suburbs and townships will be governed by a merged School Governing Body (SGB). He gave the examples of Sandton High and Alexandra High, Lyndhurst and Pimville. He said this will enable children from low-income families to have access to resources at wealthier schools.
We continue to monitor to ensure MEC Lesufi keeps his word.
POST SOCIAL AUDIT SUMMIT
After the summit, the GDE developed an immediate intervention programme to deal with the refurbishment of 471 schools in Gauteng. These schools included “The 50 Worst Schools” that were identified and were scheduled to be completed by 30 July 2015. In addition to the 50 schools, another 200 schools were earmarked for completion by the deadline of 30 August 2015. The remaining 221 schools were earmarked for completion by 30 September 2015.
After requesting preliminary reports without success, Equal Education resorted to conducting random audits at 17 of the schools that were promised upgrades. All of the schools on the list had contractors building everything from toilet blocks, to new classrooms to the major refurbishment of existing infrastructure.
The outcomes of the survey were:
All 17 schools reported work being done in terms of the fixing of toilets and the addition of new toilet blocks, however 15 of the 17 schools indicated that matric classrooms and toilets had been prioritised.
One out of three schools reported an improvement in access to soap and toilet paper since May however only one school reported that there was improved access to sanitary pads. This is concerning considering the promised role out of dignity packs across the province.
All 17 schools reported that windows had been fixed although there were still broken windows at 10 of the 17 schools.
One of the 17 schools had received new library books however six of the schools still had NO access to a functioning library.
Although three of the 17 schools had received upgraded fences, all 17 schools were still considered unsafe by the learners.
Half of the schools surveyed did not have access to internet. The other half all reported difficulties with accessing it.
EE had advocated for a systemic approach to fixing sanitation facilities in overcrowded township schools, the current approach by the GDE is no different from the “high stakes” focus on Grade 12 as if other grades in the schooling career do not matter.
In our press statement on World Toilet Day in 2015, we made the following additional demands to the GDE:
To release a comprehensive overall report detailing all levels of work and refurbishment done by the GDE on the 471 schools as well as the individual contracts for each contractor.
For provincial Norms and Standards for Gauteng sanitation facilities for all schools in Gauteng to be released as suggested by the GDE’s own research team.
The provision of funding specifically for the maintenance of the sanitation facilities in Gauteng schools.
The compiling of a list detailing all Gauteng schools that receive dignity packs.
An evaluation or preliminary report on the effectiveness of paperless classrooms must be undertaken.
On 15 December 2015 the GDE responded, detailing among other things the list of schools which received dignity packs, and maintenance plans for all Gauteng schools. EE is still waiting for a comprehensive report on all the refurbishment done in the 400+ schools.
Please note that Equal Education (EE) is a registered Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) with S18A status, meaning that neither you nor EE pays donations tax on donations, and that donations are deductible from your taxable income. EE is also a registered Non-Profit Organisation. Our registration details are as follows:
Registered S10(1)(cN) and S18A(1)(a) Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) (Exemption Number 930 027 221)
Registered Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) (Registration Number 068-288-NPO)