South Africa 16.3.2018 04:59 pm

SAHRC starts probe into pit toilets at schools

Mark Heywood, director of Section 27, at a press conference in Johannesburg in 2014, where the state of rural school toilet facilities was discussed. Picture: Valentina Nicol.

Mark Heywood, director of Section 27, at a press conference in Johannesburg in 2014, where the state of rural school toilet facilities was discussed. Picture: Valentina Nicol.

The human rights body has condemned government for not replacing pit toilets at schools and wants an urgent meeting with the education minister.

The Education department must answer for the tragic death of five-year-old Viwe Jali who fell into a pit latrine at a school at Luna Primary school in Bizana, Eastern Cape.

This is the SA Human Rights Commission’s demand (SAHRC) following the horrific incident which comes just three years after the preventable death of five-year-old Michael Komape, who also died following his fall into a pit toilet.

The SAHRC has thus initiated a provincial-wide investigation into the incident and President Cyril Ramphosa has given Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga a month’s deadline to audit all hazardous school structures. She must then come up with a fixable plan.

“President Ramaphosa has directed Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga to conduct an audit of all learning facilities with unsafe structures, especially unsafe ablution facilities, within a month, and to present him with a plan to rectify the challenges, as an emergency interim measure while rolling out proper infrastructure, within three months,” his office said.

Civil society would also be consulted, said the presidency, on the elimination of unsafe infrastructure at the country’s schools.

“The death of Viwe is devastating for her community and the country. The nation still mourns the loss of young Michael Komape under similar tragic circumstances in 2014. In memory of these young souls, President Ramaphosa has committed government to spare no effort in ensuring that our children can learn in safe and conducive facilities.”

The SAHRC condemned the State’s prevention of a reoccurrence, and its failure to eradicate pit toilets.

“The fact that the education sector still reflects the stark disparities of historic deprivation, with thousands of schools lacking the most basic infrastructure necessary to ensure the safety and dignity of learners is shocking and cannot be tolerated. The provincial department will be called to publicly account for state of infrastructure in schools across the province,” it said.

“If we are going to achieve the vision promised by the Constitution – a society premised on equality and dignity – and where we purport to protect the most vulnerable, we need to carefully scrutinise the adequacy of measures taken to realise fundamental rights.”

It was also concerned that despite an almost full expenditure of budget for school infrastructure, the department of basic education has vastly underachieved on targets set for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure norms and standards.

“The Commission has requested an urgent meeting with…Motshekga, to discuss the state of school infrastructure.”

additional reporting ANA

EDITORIAL NOTE:

The Citizen’s website originally published this article with a photograph of a child using a pit toilet on March 19 to illustrate this major social challenge. We have subsequently removed the image as we realised it was inappropriate following a complaint from a reader regarding the right to dignity of the child concerned, and children in general.

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