'There is something wrong here': questions over how primary school pupil's body ended up behind pit toilet

26 March 2023 - 15:08
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Langalam Viki’s mother, Nangamso. File photo.
Langalam Viki’s mother, Nangamso. File photo.
Image: Ziyanda Zweni/Daily Dispatch

The department of basic education is “picking up a pattern” of pupils being killed and thrown into pit toilets.

This startling revelation was made by the department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga  during a media briefing on school infrastructure on Sunday.

He was responding to the death of four-year-old Langalam Viki whose body was found at the back of a pit toilet at Mcwangele Junior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape on March 6.

Mhlanga said there had been a similar case in the province where initial reports indicated a child had fallen into a pit toilet but it was eventually discovered there was “foul play”.

“Police are following certain leads in this particular case [Viki’s case] because there is something wrong there. Very soon they will make an announcement.”

Also shedding light on Viki’s death, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said the school had new toilets and that the little girl’s body was found “in the tank of a senior toilet, not the age appropriate toilet where she would have normally gone”.

“Why would she have gone to a senior toilet. She was not found on the pit side. It is physically impossible for a human body to make its way from the pit side of the toilet to the back of the toilet and Langalam was too young to lift the manhole that covers the tank. How did she then end up in that section of the toilet?”

She said any child using the toilet would pull their shorts down but Langalam was found fully dressed.

“These disturbing questions can only be answered by law enforcement.”

Motshekga also questioned why the bus had left one pupil behind, adding: “The incident happened after hours. How did Langalam access the premises?

“It’s a very sad death for a young kid at four to be found in the tank of a pit latrine at the back of the toilets. We don’t want to absolve government from responsibility. Let’s all wait for the investigation to be completed.”

The department’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli said they have insisted that with the specifications “particularly for sanitation” there must be lockable manholes with the principal being responsible for keeping the key.

“In many of the schools the lid is made of cement than can be lifted by strong people. If you have a lockable manhole, nobody will do these things that Mr Mhlanga has shared with us.”

He said the replacement of pit latrine toilets should not be understood to mean providing reticulated ones because there were parts of the country where running water was a problem.

There was poor project management and capacity within implementing agents and even within ourselves
Basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli

“A dry solution is safe, appropriate sanitation. It is not the inability of government to invest in eradicating these inappropriate and unsafe structures. It’s inadequate capacity within the building industry to move with a greater speed that we require.”

He said the prevalence of pit latrines was confined to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

Mweli said they had to deal with a poor delivery culture among implementing agents where for example, a project expected to be completed within six months took up to three years.

“We make sure that this doesn’t happen any more. There was also poor project management and capacity within implementing agents and even within ourselves.”

He said they had to engender a new culture of project management.

David van der Westhuijzen, deputy director-general for infrastructure, said there were initially about 3,400 schools with basic pit latrine toilets that were “totally unacceptable and inappropriate” and that this figure now stood at 911.

“All 911 have been allocated to implementing agents with some of them scheduled for completion by Friday.”

He said the balance were scheduled for completion by or before March next year, adding: “That takes us to the end of no toilets [at schools] and the end of dependence on basic pits.”

Michael Komape, 5, from Mahlodumela Primary in Limpopo and Lumka Mkethwa, 5, from Luna Primary in the Eastern Cape drowned after falling into pit toilets at their schools in January 2014 and March 2018 respectively.

Their deaths prompted the launch of the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative in August 2018 to accelerate the provision of proper sanitation facilities in schools.

The issue of overcrowding in schools which Motshekga described as a “disastrous situation” also came under the spotlight during the briefing.

Mweli said “overcrowding was becoming scary as in many urban, including rural areas, teachers can hardly walk in the classrooms”.

Van der Westhuijzen said “somewhere between 35,000 and 70,000 classrooms were needed” to ease overcrowding.

“It’s massive. Gauteng and Western Cape have a severe challenge with overcrowding.”


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