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SAHRC to take five education departments to court over pit toilets

21 December 2021 - 14:44
Toilets were subsequently built at the school where Michael Komape, 5, lost his life.
Toilets were subsequently built at the school where Michael Komape, 5, lost his life.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) will take five provinces to court for failing to eradicate pit latrines at schools.

The provinces are Mpumalanga, North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, commission deputy chairperson Fatima Chohan said on Tuesday.

The SAHRC wants the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, gazetted by minister of basic education Angie Motshekga on November 26 2013, enforced.

“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 increments to the budget are available if more work is needed;
  • Details for maintenance of the toilets/sanitation after they are provided; and
  • For the commission and court to be given monthly or quarterly updates of progress.

Limpopo has been flagged as one of the leading provinces with pit latrines in schools, and the Limpopo high court granted a structural interdict 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 lawyers on whether to litigate in Limpopo. 

Chohan said the litigation is necessary to stop further deaths, such as that of Michael Komape, who drowned after falling into a pit latrine 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 Limpopo. In 2017 and 2018, another two lives were lost to unsafe sanitation when Siyamthanda Mtunu and Lumka Mkhethwa, both from the Eastern Cape, drowned in pit latrines,” said Chohan.

Litigation is expected to start next year.



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