Pupils from more 3,000 schools from six provinces in the country risk falling into pit toilets every day, while others from at least 253 schools are without water and 248 schools have no sanitation at all.
This is according to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which released the figures on Wednesday.
The commission said it has put six provincial education MECs “on terms” concerning water and sanitation deficiencies at schools in their provinces. These include Fundile Gade in the Eastern Cape, Kwazi Mshengu in KZN, Wendy Matsemela from the North West, Polly Boshielo from Limpopo, Bonakele Majuba from Mpumalanga and Tate Makgoe from the Free State.
The action follows reports received from relevant education MECs in response to requests by the commission on the source of water and type of sanitation at schools in each province.
According to the reports, the Eastern Cape was the worst-performing province, with 2,236 schools still using pit latrines, 121 schools are without water and 199 schools have no form of sanitation.
The reports also indicate that:
- 983 schools in KZN are reliant on pit latrines;
- nine schools are without water, 44 schools have no form of sanitation and 19 schools use pit latrines in the North West;
- 113 schools are without water in Limpopo;
- 59 schools use pit latrines in Mpumalanga; and
- ten schools are without water and five do not have any form of sanitation in the Free State.
The commission has written to the MECs requiring that these provinces provide, among other things, detailed action plans with strict time frames and tangible measures to overcome the health and physical risks to which learners, educators and administrators are exposed. The commission said the action plans need to include the covering up and securing of pit latrine toilets, which pose a safety risk to learners.
The commission has informed the MECs that it will monitor the responses “attentively and take the necessary action, including litigation, if necessary, in the best interests of the child, and to protect the right to a basic education”.
The commission said it is committed to working with the national education department and their provincial counterparts to ensure that the right to a basic education is immediately realised.
In its letter to Gade, the commission expressed “grave concern that many schools in the Eastern Cape still do not have access to any water or any form of sanitation”. It said this is in contravention not only of the norms and standards, but of several basic human rights.
It demanded an action plan with clear and urgent timelines for the provision of sufficient water and sanitation facilities to the relevant schools, that meet the minimum requirements set out in the norms and standards and the upgrading of water and sanitation facilities by October 29.
“The commission further requests that your office provide a progress report to the commission on a monthly basis on progress made with the implementation of the action plan. Given the urgency of this matter, and the potential affect that the lack of access to water and basic sanitation in schools has on an array of constitutional rights of both learners and staff at the relevant schools, including the right to life, the rights of the child, the right to basic education, right to dignity, right to sufficient water and the right to a clean environment, the commission requires the provision of the requested plan on or before October 29 2021,” wrote commissioner André Gaum.
From other provinces the commission also demanded the provision of temporary measures to ensure access to sufficient, acceptable water and sanitation pending the finalisation of the state’s plan to provide longer term water and sanitation infrastructure in all schools compliant with the norms and standards and its constitutional obligations.
The plan should include details of the relevant implementing departments and agents, costed work plans with targets in relation to each school, including the details of the nature and extent of the installations, upgrades required for each school and timelines for completion of the identified targets.
“The timelines should take into account the urgent and pressing need to provide access to water and adequate sanitation to all schools, and where necessary a need to put in place temporary measures,” Gaum wrote.