South African schools’ toilet facilities: A shame and a disgrace

COMMENT

Although 41% of schools surveyed by the Water Research Commission were found to employ cleaners, only 25% of the cleaners reported that they cleaned the toilets at least once a day.

An alarming 57% of the cleaners revealed that they used the same cloths to clean the kitchen as they did to clean the toilets. This means that germs and bacteria are spread on a daily basis.

These are just some of the startling revelations reported in a special report on rural school sanitation.

Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa instructed Minister of Education Angie Motshekga to conduct a full audit of school facilities with unsafe structures. This was after the fatal incident in which five-year-old Viwe Jali drowned in a pit toilet at her Eastern Cape school. Sadly, the incident was not the first.

After the death of five-year-old Michael Komape in 2014, the Water Research Commission investigated the issue of school sanitation, particularly in rural parts of the country. The president’s instruction for the audit is definitely a necessary one. Nonetheless, there are many other issues to school sanitation.


The research found conditions that no human being should be exposed to, conditions that infringed on basic human rights.

A total of 130 schools in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal were visited, where interviews were conducted with pupils, principals and cleaners. The toilets in the various schools were also inspected. Conditions differed, but what the research showed was how the dignity of pupils was being violated.

Many of the toilet cubicles did not have doors that locked, 9% of the pit latrines did not have pit covers and 18% of these were broken, allowing pests to infiltrate the space and spread contamination. Only 18% of the pupils consulted thought the toilets were sufficiently private.

One pupil expressed how the toilets had missing doors and another pointed out that they felt a loss of dignity. Of all the schools visited, only 35% had basins for handwashing; only 50% of these were functioning.

Pictures taken during the investigation showed how filthy some toilets were, which was also observed by the pupils questioned: 71% of them found the toilets smelly, 63% found them dirty and 41% of them expressed fear of being subjected to bullying in the toilets.

These appalling conditions were linked to failed management. In some schools, decent toilets were reserved for the teachers.

Interventions should not just be about building safe structures but about building facilities that offer dignity to our children. The humiliating conditions discovered after the tragic deaths of Michael Komape and Viwe Jali, exposing health and safety risks, are faced by children in the rural parts of a free and democratic South Africa on a daily basis.

The structures in some of these schools date back to the apartheid era when communities had to build their own schools out of mud. Years later, some of these mud schools still exist, even though an entire section of the Constitution is dedicated to children’s rights.

Many girls find themselves in the predicament of having to miss school when they are menstruating. Poor facilities mean these girls are unable to change their sanitary towels in private. In fact, many can’t even afford pricey sanitary products.

In recent years, nongovernmental organisations, privileged schools, businesses and individuals have taken it upon themselves to donate sanitary products to those in need, in an attempt to ease this situation.

Similarly, there has been a bid to seek out alternative toilet designs, which do not place users directly over deep pits.

The education department should also mandate school governing bodies to raise funds to employ more cleaning staff and purchase safety equipment and cleaning supplies.

The Water Research Commission is open and committed to working with stakeholders towards creating environmentally friendly and sustainable sanitation in schools.

Boitumelo Lekalakala works for the Water Research Commission. The views expressed in this article are her own 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Fix economy: Cut, build, tax

Expert panel presents a range of solutions to the economic crisis that include cost cutting, infrastructure spending and a solidarity levy

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

Watch it again: Ramaphosa details economic recovery plan

According to the Presidency, the plan aims to expedite, in a sustainable manner, the recovery of South Africa’s economy

Ramaphosa reiterates support for emerging farmers

On the back of the announcement that the government would allocate more land to be leased by emerging farmers, President Cyril Ramaphosa says that beneficiaries will also be trained in financial management and enterprise development

Citizens tired of being played for a fool

The use of a South African Air Force jet by ANC officials without the minister following the required procedures is one such case — and more questions arise on examination of that case

Infrastructure key to economic recovery — Ramaphosa

The governing party wants localisation at the centre of its infrastructure-led strategy
Advertising

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday