Cyril's schools plan is the pits of hypocrisy, says NGO
How can he launch a plan to eradicate pit toilets when he's fighting a court order to improve schools' infrastructure?
Equal Education has blasted a new plan announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday to improve toilets at schools, saying it was difficult to reconcile this with government’s recent application to appeal a high court ruling that it was obliged to urgently fix schools, including toilets.
In response to the death of pupils in pit-latrine accidents, Ramaphosa launched an initiative that will provide innovative, safe ablution facilities at nearly 4,000 mostly rural and township schools.
The Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) project is in response to the death of five-year-old Michael Komape at Mahlodumela Primary School in 2014 and Lumka Mkethwa at the Luna Junior Primary School in the Eastern Cape in March.In July the Bhisho High Court ordered that all schools and classrooms built from mud and other inappropriate materials be replaced in accordance with national building regulations and occupational health and safety regulations.
On Friday the Department of Basic Education applied for leave to appeal the judgment pertaining to the Regulations Relating to Minimum Norms and Standards for Public School infrastructure.
Equal Education’s parliamentary officer and researcher Sibabalwe Gcilitshana said instead of working to implement the regulation which its members had fought for and complying with the recent judgment that tightened the state’s obligation, the government had chosen to rather waste desperately needed time and money in court.
“Despite our best efforts to ensure that no more time, energy and public resources are spent dragging the issue through the courts, President Ramaphosa and [Basic Education] Minister Motshekga not only failed to respond to our letters but also filed an application to appeal the #FixTheNorms judgment,” she said.
The norms and standards, which were promulgated in 2013, state that pit latrines should have been eradicated by 2016.“It is difficult to reconcile the SAFE initiative launched today [Tuesday], with the state’s lodging of an appeal last week, in which it argues that it is not obliged to urgently fix schools, including toilets,” said Gcilitshana.
She said the Education Department had already missed the first legally binding deadline it set for itself, November 29 2016, “and is of course to miss the second, November 29 2020”.
The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative programme, initiated in 2011, originally planned to completely rebuild 510 schools within three years. Seven years down the line only 189 have been constructed.
Following Mkethwa’s death, Ramaphosa called on Motshekga to provide a comprehensive sanitation audit within three months. Motshekga committed to providing a detailed audit with costed emergency plans and timelines.
“Therefore, even if the DBE releases a plan with specified deadlines, it is likely that they will not stick to it, making it hard to anticipate when they will finally achieve this,” Gcilitshana said.Earlier this year, the South African Human Rights Commission asked the Education Department for the sanitation audit results and was instead provided with a one page spreadsheet, termed a “rapid report”.
In the report, KwaZulu-Natal recorded 2,826 schools with pit latrine toilets, while the Eastern Cape followed with 1,722 and Limpopo had 769. The other provinces had lower numbers.
During his keynote address on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said schools should be places where children could be safe, supported, nurtured and empowered.
“This is an initiative that will save lives and restore the dignity of tens of thousands of our nation’s children, as our Constitution demands. SAFE will spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, discomfort and danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools,” he said. Ramaphosa said the new initiative was a demonstration of how partners could collaborate in responding to urgent challenges.
He said current models of sanitation were expensive, used a lot of water and required extensive infrastructure. To this end, the Water Research Commission was working with various local and international organisations to find a better option, such as toilets that were off the grid and used less water.