Pretoria - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is set to litigate five provincial governments that have schools which continue to use pit toilets in what is expected to be the largest case brought against the government since the establishment of the commission.
This follows years of frustration and anger about the continued use of pit toilets that have killed learners and continue to expose them and their teachers to poor hygiene in schools.
Deputy chairperson Fatima Chohan and commissioner André Gaum yesterday said the SAHRC has no other option but to take the government to court early next year as engagements with relevant authorities have failed to yield satisfactory results.
Chohan said the lack of adequate hygienic facilities and water affected learners’ integrity and that of their women teachers, who were subjected to these kinds of toilets in Mpumalanga, the North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
On January 20, 2014, when 5-year-old Michael Komape, who was in Grade R at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo, went to relieve himself he never returned to the classroom, after tragically falling into a pit toilet when the dilapidated structure caved in.
Before this, Lister Magongwa, 7, died in 2013 after the walls of a toilet collapsed on him at Mmushi Primary School, also in Limpopo.
In 2017 and 2018 another two lives were lost to unsafe sanitation when Siyamthandwa Mtunu, 6, and Lumka Mkweta, 5, both from the Eastern Cape, fell into and drowned in pit toilets.
Another young life was tragically cut short when a 3-year-old fell into and drowned in a pit toilet at an unregistered Early Childhood Development Centre in KZN on September 6.
According to Chohan, this matter had a gender perspective too: “Adolescent girl learners who are menstruating are forced to miss school every month due to the lack of privacy, lack of adequate hygienic facilities and the lack of water. Female teachers are also thus impacted.”
The regulations relating to minimum uniform norms and standards for public school infrastructure were promulgated in November 2013 and required the eradication of pit toilets.
However, in 2014 the SAHRC was cautioned that a lack of access to sanitation violated several basic human rights, including the right to dignity and education and offended the right to a safe and healthy environment.
Subsequently, the Department of Basic Education committed itself to prioritising and overseeing access to potable water and sanitation by the end of the 2014/15 year.
According to responses from the provincial Departments of Education to the commission, 983 schools in KZN were still reliant on pit toilets and nine schools were without water. There were 44 schools without any form of sanitation, and 19 used pit toilets in the North West. In Limpopo, 113 schools were without water.
In Mpumalanga, 59 schools use pit toilets.
In the Eastern Cape, 199 schools were without water and 2 236 used pit toilets.
In the Free State, 10 schools were without water and five did not have any form of sanitation.
Chohan said: “The relief which the commission will seek in this litigation will include an order that each of the provincial departments that have identified schools which have either only pit toilets or no available sanitation technology, provide the court and the commission with costed work plans, with targets in relation to each school that includes details of the nature and extent of the installations or upgrades required for each school, and timelines for completion of the identified targets.
“Details regarding budgetary allocations or reallocations to be made available for the installation and upgrades of necessary facilities in accordance with the plan or where such allocation is found to be insufficient to ensure the progressive increments, and details of maintenance plans for the upkeep of water and sanitation facilities.”
She said the litigation would also seek an order that the commission and the court be provided with reports on a monthly or quarterly basis on progress with the implementation of the action plan according to the timelines in the plan, coupled with the necessary evidence of progressive implementation.