Nearly 4 000 schools across South Africa are still being subjected to pit latrines or other inappropriate sanitation facilities.
This revelation was made by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday during the launch of the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (Safe) initiative at the Sheraton Hotel in Tshwane.
“We are gathered here today to seek collective action to give all the children of this country what most of us take for granted.
“We are here to ask you to be part of a bold social initiative to ensure that every school in the country has safe and appropriate sanitation facilities,” said Ramaphosa.
This initiative is meant to save lives and restore the dignity of tens of thousands of South African children, as per the Constitution.
The initiative is a result of a partnership between the department of basic education, the Presidency, the National Education Collaboration Trust, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Unicef to address the significant school sanitation challenges facing some of the country’s poorest schools.
The announcement also comes just less than six months after the tragic death of a five-year-old, Lumka Mkhethwa, who fell and died in a pit toilet at her Mbizana school.
It also comes four years after the death of another five-year-old, Michael Komape, who fell and died in a pit latrine at his Limpopo school in 2014 and just four months after the Limpopo High Court in Polokwane dismissed the Komape family’s claim for general and constitutional damages for the death of their son.
A few days after Lumka’s death in March this year, the president instructed the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to carry out an audit of school sanitation facilities and submit a plan to eradicate them within three months.
This led to the birth of the Sanitation Appropriate for Education – or Safe – initiative which government says will “spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, discomfort and danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools”.
“The Safe initiative reaches beyond the bricks and mortar of water and sanitation. It seeks to contribute to building a cohesive society in which schools are the heartbeat of wholesome communities,” said Ramaphosa.
The president also said the utterly tragic and devastating deaths of children so young and so innocent should be a reminder to South Africans of the human consequences of poor service delivery.
“They remind us that we must focus all our attention not on what we have achieved, but on what we haven’t,” said Ramaphosa.
Through the launch of Safe, the government was calling on “all South Africans, corporates, non-governmental organisations and international partners to be part of this ambitious, but necessary, effort to give effect to the fundamental human rights of our learners,” said the president.
With the implementation of this initiative, the government also highlighted that it sought to also improvement the education system as a whole.
“We cannot expose our learners and educators to an environment that is not conducive to teaching and learning and still expect excellent educational outcomes,” said Ramaphosa.
The United Nations Development Programme estimates that, globally, there are more than 2.4 billion people who do not have access to basic sanitation such as toilets.
Ramaphosa, however, also said it was not all doom and gloom because “in the public school system, since the advent of democracy, over 11 000 schools have been provided with flush toilets linked either to a municipal connection or a septic tank”.