Western Cape Sanitation Campaign

What do learners have to say about sanitation conditions in their school?

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 3 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. 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 [1]”. 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

While the guidelines set by the Western Cape Education Department are vague, it is apparent that many schools do not currently meet stated guidelines. Here are key provisions from the guidelines:

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 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 [2]. 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.



Carla GoldsteinWestern Cape Sanitation Campaign