Section27 threatens more court action over Limpopo schools

A school in Limpopo. (Supplied)

A school in Limpopo. (Supplied)

Collapsed toilets, exposed sewerage pits, pupils learning while holding umbrellas under leaking roofs are some of the problems Section27 wants the provincial education department to address.

"We know that over 4 000 schools in the province don't have adequate sanitation and about 200 000 students don't have desks or chairs," Thabang Pooe, a researcher at the rights organisation, told a press conference in Johannesburg on Thursday.

"We've been meeting with the department since last year about this and they promised us they would develop a plan to address sanitation problems at 111 of the worst of the worst schools by the end of January. They didn't."

As the urgency increased, and as all attempts to engage reasonably with the national and provincial education departments are exhausted, the rights organisation "would have no choice but to litigate", she said.

The organisation showed photos of schools with holes in the ground meant to be toilets, toilet structures that had collapsed in the rain, sunk into the ground, and in some cases had been like that for up to ten years.

Cracks in the walls and holes in the roofs at some schools meant pupils were forced to sit at desks holding umbrellas. A photo showed a Grade 1 pupil sitting on a toilet with no walls while other pupils stood nearby. One photo showed a classroom with 133 pupils crammed shoulder to shoulder and with no desks.

Open sewerage
Attorney at the organisation, Nikki Stein, said collapsed toilets left sewerage pits open and exposed.

"The terrible smell as you drive into the schools is indescribable. The raw sewerage attracts snakes, rats, maggots …. what if someone fell into those pits?" she told the Mail & Guardian.

Some pupils bought an extra set of clothing to school with them to change into when they needed to use the toilet because "the smell from the toilets actually clings onto their clothes", she said.

"There is a complete sense of defeat at these schools because school governing bodies have been writing letters to the provincial department for years and nothing happens."

Another rights organisation, Equal Education, campaigned for two years to get Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to publish norms and standards for school infrastructure – a document stating what school infrastructure should be and which the organisation says would help communities hold government responsible for addressing the exact problems highlighted by Section27.

The matter went to court last year and eventually resulted in Motshekga publishing the norms in January which activists called a "slap in the face" for their shocking inadequacy.

Solanga Milambo, a Limpopo parent and Section27 employee, said the conditions his children learn under are worse than when he was at school.

"Even during apartheid the situation was better," he said.

He said there was no running water in the schools, yet the department had built flushing toilets at some schools. Poor conditions were causing absenteeism.

"When girls menstruate they have to miss school from anything between three days and a week, every month," he said.

But spokesperson for the provincial education department, Pat Kgomo, told the M&G that they had provided Section27 with a plan for the 111 schools in desperate need and had already started work improving the sanitation infrastructure at them.

"For infrastructure, we hope to have made good headway by 31 March," he said.

"We have a plan, we have met with Section27 in good faith so we view their conduct as very unfair to us."

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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