A South African school principal has been suspended after he made an 11-year-old pupil search for his missing phone at the bottom of a pit latrine. The child was allegedly lowered into the toilet using a rope and promised R200 to do so.
According to TimesLive, the boy was teased by his peers because of this experience and is traumatised to the extent that his grandmother has said he fears returning to school.
The incident gained national attention after a community member took a video describing what took place at Luthuthu Secondary School in the Eastern Cape, and posted it to social media. In the now-viral video, the concerned community member explains in isiXhosa that the child did not volunteer to search for the phone, and further details his experience.
“The child was given gloves, taken out of his uniform, and a rope was tied around his arms and he was lowered by other learners into the toilet,” he said. “He was knee-deep in the faeces and he used his own hands to search for the phone, with faeces going even above his hands and to his elbows."
The principal allegedly gave the child R50 after the incident, while the phone was reportedly never found.
Pit latrines are still common in the rural areas of South Africa, even though in 2018 the country’s government vowed to get rid of all of them following the tragic drowning of 5-year-old pupil Michael Komape in 2014.
The eradication of pit latrines was also a key part of Global Citizen's campaigning in the run up to Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, hosted in Johannesburg in December 2018, with Global Citizens taking thousands of actions calling on the private sector to help South Africa's government in the effort.
While a national plan was set in place to eventually ease out the use of pit latrines, non-governmental organisation, Section27, said that the country is falling behind on this plan.
The organisation said that more needs to be done to eradicate these toilets and prioritise children’s sanitation rights. The COVID-19 pandemic has also interrupted progress towards demolishing pit latrines in the country.
In a statement from November 2020, the organisation’s spokesperson Nontsikelelo Mpulo said that the South African government’s response for safe sanitation in schools during the pandemic has not been sustainable.
“They obtained mobile toilets for over 3,000 schools for three months. These are temporary solutions; we need sustainable solutions for safe sanitation in this country,” she said.
According to the Daily Maverick, the money used for these temporary COVID-19 sanitation facilities was taken from national school infrastructure budgets that were already stretched, without consideration for infrastructure that had already been planned.
Earlier this year it was reported that almost 1,600 schools in the Eastern Cape province did not have suitable infrastructure to provide children with safe and sustainable sanitation, 72 of these schools were deemed unsafe to open for the 2021 academic year.
While no further plans have been made by the government to speed-up the eradication of pit latrines, the Eastern Cape department of education has since condemned the horrific incident that took place earlier this week and launched an official investigation. The principal, 49-year-old Lubeko Lennox Mgandela, was initially charged with attempted murder by the state, but on Wednesday this charge has changed to child abuse.
The education department has also said that it arranged for counselling for the child and other pupils involved.