A Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) is set to return to Polokwane High Court to continue in fighting for safe, dignified and sanitary school toilets in Limpopo on May 24.
According to the organisation this was unconstitutional, and they want the education department to craft a plan for the eradication of pit latrines that is coherent and meets their obligations to realise the right to basic education immediately.
Section 27 head of communication Nontsikelelo Mpulo said they filed heads of arguments at court last October to continue six years legal battle with the Limpopo Department of Education (LDOE) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to fight for the eradication of the pit toilets responsible for the deaths of learners at schools.
Mpulo said the DBE and LDOE claim the department will only have safe toilets between 2028 and 2030.
The provision of safe toilets is one of the requirements from the structural order handed down in the Rosina Komape and Others against Department of Basic Education and other case, said Mpulo.
“In 2018 the court ordered DBE and LDOE to supply each school in Limpopo with safe and dignified toilets. And to also conduct a comprehensive audit of sanitation needs and detailing the names and locations of all schools with pit toilets in the province and to provide a comprehensive plan for the installation of new toilets,”
Mpulo said so far the LDOE and DBE have filed two affidavits with the court on 31 August 2018, and another on 12 May 2020.
But according to Mpulo, filed affidavits fail to provide accurate data and also do not constitute a coherent or comprehensive plan for the eradication of pit toilets and for many reasons.
Section 27 believe this was unconstitutional and have responded with affidavits as well.
Mpulo said the so-called ‘plan’ by the department merely envisions pit toilets being removed as late as 2030.
“The scant timelines provided claim that due to budgetary constraints, sanitation infrastructure projects will likely only start between 2026 and 2028 and be completed between 2028 and 2030”.
“Unless a more comprehensive, urgent and coherent plan is implemented, thousands of learners will be at risk of dying or being injured at schools with unsafe toilets for the next decade,” stated section 27.
Mpulo said only a handful of schools have been earmarked for interventions before 2030, with no information about why certain schools have been chosen and others have not.
And because of education authorities’ history of missed deadlines, financial mismanagement and disregard for learners’ safety, we are saying this is not good enough. The departments have missed their own deadlines according to this new plan, said Mpulo.
“We hold our enforcement of the structural order while we pursued justice for the Komape family, taking their case for damages to the Supreme Court of Appeal, where we won.” Said Mpulo.
Mpulo said the existence of pit toilets in schools puts more learners in danger and as such, it is crucial that compliance with the structural order be expedited.
“Basic education is unreliable, immediately realizable right and it includes entitlements to safe, adequate school sanitation,” the organization cited.
Mpulo said the plans for the delivery of sanitation at schools, then, must be capable of being realised immediately for them to be reasonable in terms of the law.
The NPO is calling for the Court to rule that the DBE and LDOE’s ‘plan’ for the abolishing of pit toilets as unconstitutional.
“We are requesting that the court order that the DBE and LDOE file a new, consolidated plan with the court about how they will urgently eradicate all pit toilets at schools in the province, and replace them with appropriate sanitation,” said Mpulo.
At a time where COVID-19 has illustrated the critical importance of safe sanitation infrastructure, the education authorities’ plan for the eradication of pit toilets if it could even be called a ‘plan’, because the documents lack a clear blueprint for how and when safe toilets will be provided fails to provide for the urgency of need, or allocate sufficient financial resources to install safe toilets.
The head of communication said DBE rented costly temporary sanitary toilets and water tanks for 499 schools in Limpopo as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, but these were only secured for six months and do not reach all the schools that need them.
Section 27 said the data on the number of pit toilets in Limpopo is contradictory and confusing.
“Available data illustrates that unsafe sanitation remains a grave issue in the province, and we reiterate the need for an accurate audit of the sanitation needs of school. We also call for independent oversight of the rollout of safe toilets in schools in the province. The LDOE and DBE have statutory and constitutional duties to demolish the pit toilets and replace them permanently with safe ones urgently,” said Mpulo.
Mpulo said in the context of safe toilets it is a question of life and death for children
“And while conditions of unsafe, unlawful sanitation infrastructure are endured at schools, learners’ rights to basic education, equality and dignity are jeopardized,” said Mpulo.