SAHRC to take five education departments to court over pit toilets

School sanitation, particularly in township and rural schools, leaves little to be desired and in recent years we have seen heart-wrenching stories of children falling and drowning in pit latrines.
School sanitation, particularly in township and rural schools, leaves little to be desired and in recent years we have seen heart-wrenching stories of children falling and drowning in pit latrines.
Image: Supplied

The SA Human Rights Commission will take five provinces to court for failure to eradicate pit latrines in schools, the Chapter 9 institute revealed at a briefing on Tuesday.

Deputy chairperson for the commission Fatima Chohan said the provinces that will be litigated are Mpumalanga, North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The commission wants the enforcement of the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure which were gazetted by minister of basic education Angie Motshekga on November 26 2013.

“This requires the eradication of pit latrines. This is government's own target set way back in 2013. In 2014 through its report titled the right to access sufficient water and decent sanitation, the commission cautioned that a lack of access to sufficient water and decent sanitation violates several basic human rights, including the right to dignity, education and a safe and healthy environment,” said Chohan.

The objectives are:

  • For each provincial department to identify schools with inadequate sanitation and the cost plans, installations needed and time it will take. They must also provide temporary sanitation services while the installations take place;
  • To provide detailed budgets and ensure that increments to the budget be available if more work is needed;
  • Details for maintenance plan of the toilets/sanitation after they are provided; and
  • For the commission and court to be given monthly or quarterly updates of the progress.

Although Limpopo has been flagged as one of the leading provinces with pit latrines in schools, a structural interdict was granted by the Limpopo high court against the provincial department of education to revise a sound plan on the eradication of pit latrines in a shorter time than advised by the department of basic education. 

Commissioner Andre Gaum said they will consult with their legal advisors on whether they should litigate in Limpopo. 

Chohan said the litigation is necessary to stop further deaths such as that of Michael Komape who died after falling into a pit latrine and drowned at Mahlodumela primary school in Chebeng village, outside Polokwane, in  January 2014.

“Michael drowned in human excrement. He was just five years old. Prior to this, Lister Magongwa died in 2013 after the walls of a toilet collapsed on him at Moshe primary school also in the Limpopo province. In 2017 and 2018, another two lives were lost to unsafe sanitation when Siyamthanda Mtunu and Lumka Mkhethwa, both from the Eastern Cape, fell in and drowned in pit latrines,” said Chohan.

Litigation is expected to commence next year.

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