The department of basic education will begin an audit of sanitation facilities in schools throughout the country within a month, following the death of a five-year-old child, who fell into a pit latrine at school.
Lumka Mkhethwa – also known as Viwe Jali – fell into a pit latrine while going to a toilet at Luna Primary School in the Eastern Cape last week. This incident occurred three years after the similarly tragic death of another child in Limpopo in 2014.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga yesterday announced that she will convene an urgent meeting with provincial MECs to discuss school infrastructure and ways of “accelerating the eradication of unsafe ablution facilities”.
Following the audit, the department will develop an emergency plan, which will be presented to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“It has always been the view and the position of the minister that safe and decent facilities, which include sanitation, do not only provide a conducive environment for teaching and learning, but are fundamental to the dignity and human rights of both pupils and teachers,” the ministry said.
The SA Human Rights Commission (HRC), who have been very vocal about the matter, said their main issue is that “lack of sanitation or unsafe toilet structures is a problem in the Eastern Cape.”
Abongile Sipondo, provincial manager of the HRC in the Eastern Cape, said: “Our investigation seeks to ensure that the government tackles this challenge, and ensure access to safe and clean sanitation for all pupils in the schools in the province.
“We have not visited the school yet. However, we have initiated investigations and have sent an allegation letter to the department and [we are] awaiting response.”
Meanwhile, Professor Adriano G Duse from Wits University said: “In a pit latrine the bacterial flora will be a mix of a range of gastrointestinal colonisers as well as environmental organisms… falling into a pit latrine with or without drowning is a very clear risk.”
The gastrointestinal bacteria which would be found in a typical pit latrine could include E.coli which in excess could lead to cramps, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and at its worst, acute kidney failure. Meanwhile, the environmental organisms – if left untreated – could contain among others, listeria monocytogenes.