The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is set to take legal action against several provincial education departments over unsafe and unhygienic toilets in schools.
On Tuesday, the SAHRC announced it plans on taking five provincial education departments in North West, Free State, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to court, in a bid to get rid of pit toilets.
During a media briefing, SAHRC deputy chairperson Fatima Chohan explained that the commission had written to the education MECs, requesting a list of schools that did not have proper sanitation following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chohan revealed that the departments later informed the SAHRC that there were pit toilets at more than 3,000 schools.
It was established that 983 schools in KZN use pit toilets along with more than 2,200 in Eastern Cape.
In North West, 19 schools still rely on pit toilets, as well as 59 schools in Mpumalanga, and five in the Free State.
“Upon receipt of the information, the commission put six provincial MECs for education on terms concerning water and sanitation deficiencies at schools in their provinces,” she said.
The SAHRC deputy chairperson indicated that the commission warned the MECs that it would take the legal route if they failed to come up with detailed action plans to deal with a lack of sanitation in schools.
“The commission having tried engagement with the relevant authorities sees no other option but to litigate in this regard, as no other strategy is likely to produce the desired result namely, measurable progress towards the eradication of pit latrines in all schools and the provision of an acceptable form of sanitation in those schools currently offering none,” she continued to say.
Chohan added that the litigation is expected to take place in 2022.
In January 2014, Michael Komape, aged five, died after falling into the pit latrine at Mahlodumela Primary School.
According to the SAHRC, the Grade R learner’s cause of his death was listed as “aspiration of foreign matter”.
Prior to Komape’s death, Lister Magongwa, aged seven, died after the walls of a toilet collapsed on him at Mmushi Primary School in 2013.
Siyamthandwa Mtunu, and Lumka Mkweta, both from the Eastern Cape, fell into and drowned in pit latrines in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Mtunu was just six-years-old while Mkweta was five-years-old, at the time of their deaths.
In the most recent incident, which took place in September this year, a three-year-old fell into and drowned in a pit latrine at an unregistered Early Childhood Development Centre in KZN.
Chohan said the deaths of these pupils called for “urgent and decisive action”.
“Every day, thousands of children are denied their right to dignity in schools across the country. By law, children between the ages of 7 and 15 are required to attend school.
“The state has made exercising the right to basic education compulsory while failing to ensure that all children are able to do so in safety and in dignity. The dire threat faced by children, on a daily basis, calls for urgent and decisive action,” she said.