Equal Education (EE) has said that 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 schools are poor and under-resourced.
The 2011 National Education Infrastructure Management System Report tells us that most schools across the country continue to exist without adequate sanitation. Of the 24 793 public ordinary schools:
11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets
2 611 schools have an unreliable water supply
2 402 schools have no water supply
913 do not have any ablution facilities at all
After more than three years of campaigning by EE, the legally binding Regulations for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure were adopted by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, on 29 November 2013.
The Regulations say that 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. Significantly, the Regulations prohibit plain pit and bucket latrines in schools, but set a seven year time frame to eradicate this category of toilet.
This means that the 1 358 schools in Limpopo (including Mahlodumela Primary) where some form of sanitation exists will only be upgraded within seven years.
Clearly this is an inadequately long time frame to address the urgent need to improve access to safe and hygienic sanitation in schools.
The Constitutional Court has interpreted the right to a basic education as â??immediately realisable’. In a press release, the EE states that it believes this includes the right to safe and hygienic sanitation.
The Regulations for Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure came into effect on 29 November 2013; this means that government must already have begun implementing them.
Billions of rands allocated for the delivery of basic services and the eradication of inappropriate schools are not spent. This slow pace of delivery is caused by the lack of capacity within government. Unless the issue of lack of capacity is addressed, more schools will still be waiting for promises to be fulfilled.