Human rights commission to probe Limpopo school toilets

Rights activists say the basic education department must urgently address the poor state of sanitation at Limpopo schools. (Madelene Cronje, MG)

Rights activists say the basic education department must urgently address the poor state of sanitation at Limpopo schools. (Madelene Cronje, MG)

The South African Human Rights Commission will investigate sanitation in schools across Limpopo after a grade R pupil fell into a pit toilet and died.

"The commission has decided to launch an own-initiative investigation around this matter," spokesperson Isaac Mangena said in a statement on Wednesday.

The commission was aware of many other schools in the province that still used pit toilets.

Six-year-old Michael Komape died when he fell into a pit toilet at the Mahlodimela Primary School, in Chedeng, on Monday.

Mangena called on the basic education department "to move with necessary speed to ensure that all pit toilets in schools are eradicated". The commission suggested the use of temporary sanitation measures while long-term plans were rolled out. It hoped that officials found guilty of negligence would be brought to book.

'Avoidable' death
Meanwhile, nongovernmental organisation Equal Education expressed shock and sadness at his death on Thursday.

"Equal Education is shocked and deeply saddened by the untimely and avoidable death of a grade R learner from Mahlodimela Primary School, who was found in a pit latrine at his school in Chedeng village," Equal Education chair Yoliswa Dwane said in statement.

"This tragic incident demonstrates the health and safety dangers of pit latrines and emphasises the urgent need to address school infrastructure, particularly in rural areas where the poorest and most under-resourced schools are in the majority."

Dwane said the 2011 National Education Infrastructure Management System Report showed that most schools across the country continued to exist without adequate sanitation.

"Of the 24 793 public ordinary schools, 11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets and 2 402 schools have no water supply, while a further 2 611 schools have an unreliable water supply."

Norms and standards
Dwane said after more than three years of campaigning by Equal Education, the legally binding regulations for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure were adopted by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in late 2013.

"The regulations say all schools must have sanitation facilities that are easily accessible to all learners and must provide privacy and security, promote health and hygiene standards and be maintained in good working order."

Public interest law centre Section27 said Komape's death highlighted the unsafe conditions in which children across Limpopo were taught.

"We urge the national department of basic education and the Limpopo department of education to take urgent steps to ensure that toilets in all schools in Limpopo are sanitary and safe," spokesperson Mark Heywood said in a statement.

It challenged 12 construction companies that admitted to bid-rigging to build school toilets in Limpopo.

"It would be a small measure of recompense for these companies to immediately help in fixing the problem of school toilets."

Sanitation programme
The ANC Youth League spokesperson in Limpopo, Onicca Moloi, said the tragedy happened three months after the education department launched the rural schools sanitation programme. It aimed to provide water and sanitation facilities to over 1 000 schools in the province before the end of this year.

"Mahlodumela Primary School, where the late Komape was a pupil, is earmarked to benefit from the programme," Moloi said.

The youth league called on the department to speed up the programme and treat it with the same urgency as the textbooks debacle.
– Sapa, additional reporting by Staff Reporter

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