Polly Boshielo, member of the executive council (MEC) for education in Limpopo, South Africa, has committed to eradicating pit toilets in all schools in the province.
Speaking at her first budget speech last week, Boshielo said her department is prioritising ending pit toilets in the next financial year.
“This is a matter that is receiving our undivided attention in order to create a safe and favourable environment for teaching and learning in schools," she said.
At the moment, there are 507 schools without proper and safe toilets, according to the department.
Boshielo said the Department of Basic Education will replace pit toilets in 300 of the schools, while the provincial government replaces the pit toilets in 207 schools.
She added that the department has allocated R1 billion ($74 million) to infrastructure development — which will go towards building safe toilets and renovating classrooms.
The province has, howeber, been critised for inconsistancies in the reported number of schools with pit toilets.
According to Mail & Guardian, in an affidavit filed at the Polokwane high court last year, the Limpopo department of education said it had identified 1,658 schools with sanitation needs and 1,489 of them of them had pit toilets.
But, the department insists that that the province only has 507 schools with pit toilets.
Spokesperson for the provincial department, Sam Makondo, told Mail & Guardian that the 1,489 number in the affidavit referred to schools that needed improved sanitation facilities — but that they did not all have pit toilets.
The safety of learners has come to question after the death of a 5-year-old child at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng village.
Michael Komape died in January 2014 after his school’s pit toilet collapsed, causing him to fall into it.
Komape’s death sparked national outrage, and demands for change to make the school infrastructure system safe for children.
It also led research and human rights organisations to investigate a lack of proper sanitation in schools.
One such organisation is South Africa’s water knowledge hub, the Water Research Commission (WRC).
To look into the issue of school sanitation, particularly in rural parts of the country, the WRC conducted an investigation in 130 schools in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal.
The commission released a report in 2016, highlighting the findings from focus groups and interviews, as well as surveys with learners and teachers.
A key finding from the inspection of toilet facilities was that conditions were “sometimes shocking."
Boitumelo Lekalakala, of the WRC, said the research found conditions that no human being should be exposed to, let alone a child.
“Many of the toilet cubicles did not have doors that locked, 9% of the pit latrines did not have pit covers, and 18% of these were broken, allowing pests to infiltrate the space and spread contamination,” she said, adding that "only 18% of the pupils consulted thought the toilets were sufficiently private.”
While most of the attention is on the Limpopo province, lack of sanitation infrastructure in schools is a national crisis in South Africa.
In the Eastern Cape, where 61 schools reportedly have no toilets at all, another 5-year-old died in March 2018. Lumka Mketwa drowned after falling into a pit toilet at her school, Luna Primary School in Bizana.
Meanwhile, at the launch of the 2017/2018 School Monitoring Survey in April, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said she is confident that if all goes according to plan, pit toilets can be eradicated within two years.
"Since we launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative in August last year, some 234 projects out of 3,998 have reached practical completion," she said.
The survey found that only 76% of schools had running water, while 80% had adequately functioning sanitation.
Motshekga agreed that this is worrying, however adding that with budget commitments, support from the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Water and Sanitation, as well as private role players, adequate sanitation at all schools would become a reality before 2022.
"As you know, the president has made money available to eradicate pit latrines within three years," Motshekga said.
Meanwhile, in the run-up to Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, held in Johannesburg in Deb. 2018, Global Citizens took over 57,000 actions calling on the private sector to help the South African government in its efforts to eradicate pit latrines.
In response to your calls, Global Citizen partner Vodacom announced that the telecommunications company was partnering with the government to help fund its R8 billion sanitation campaign.
"We find it completely unacceptable that a preventable and fixable issue like pit latrines is holding our children back," said CEO Shameel Joosub onstage.
You can read about how Vodacom's pledge to help completely eradicate pit toilets in South Africa by 2030 is progressing here.