Sanitation: Flush with possibilities

Alison Visser
2019-08-19 13:54
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As South Africa celebrates a generation of freedom, Anglo American acknowledges its deep roots in the country and looks ahead to its contribution in the next 25 years and beyond. Over the next five weeks experience 25 Reasons to Believe with City Press as we explore the economy, job creation, enterprise development, health, land reform, sustainability, education, technology and – most important of all – the communities

Hans Masibe Primary School is situated in a village called Ga-Masenya in Limpopo, a stone’s throw away from the Anglo American Platinum Mogalakwena open-pit mine.

It is a neat face-brick school that boasts beautiful gardens – including a thriving vegetable garden – Wi-Fi and modern ablution blocks, and it is a source of pride for principal Peter Mkhabela, who has worked hard to ensure that the facilities have been maintained. Often, parents and volunteers help out with cleaning, he says.

The school also asks parents to donate R2 a week for cleaning supplies, but not all parents are able to make this contribution – the 467 pupils come from mostly disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 2002 the education department rebuilt Hans Masibe after it was hit by a tornado. Until late last year, the school had no flushing toilets – they were the “Enviro Loo” kind, a waterless toilet system that, Mkhabela says, “worked okay” but was nothing like the system they have now.

“Anglo American Platinum initially approached the school to find out about the challenges that the school was facing and what they could do to help,” says Mkhabela.

One aspect of the company’s involvement was the conversion to flush toilets in three of the school’s five ablution blocks. But these are no ordinary toilets. Firstly, stainless steel cisterns were installed to ensure longevity. Secondly, the sanitation system consists of a special septic design to organically break down the effluent and ensure no contamination, then it removes the toxins and allows the grey water to be used for the vegetable garden.

During the launch of the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative in November 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on the private sector to help “build a new society founded on the principles of justice, respect, dignity and equality”, and Mkhabela is proud to say that his school is living these principles.

Selaelo Ralefeta, a circuit manager in the department of basic education, says they had been trying to figure out how to convert them into ones that flushed, but it was the support from Anglo American that made it happen.

Ralefeta says there are 34 schools in the circuit and, so far, five have flushing toilets. Hans Masibe is located in a village where there is no shortage of water, but not all schools are this fortunate.

“Anglo American also implemented its sanitation project in two other schools, Mphunye Secondary and Jan Malebana Primary in the village of Armoede, which are within the same Mapela region as Hans Masibe,” Ralefeta says.

These schools were relocated by Anglo American Platinum because the company wanted to use their previous locations for mining, but “the two schools are located in an area where there is a shortage of water”.

Ralefeta says that, while this conversion was an improvement for the schools’ infrastructure, the department was in talks with Anglo American regarding the issue of water scarcity before the conversion continues at other schools.

“According to the Mining Charter, mining companies have a social responsibility to give back to the communities in which they operate,” she says.

The reclaimed water from the sanitation system is used to water the vegetable garden at the school

And Anglo American has done more than that – it is committed to finding new approaches to achieve long-term and sustainable development opportunities in the regions around its operations. This is a key pillar in the company’s Sustainable Mining Plan.

Seara Mkhabela, executive head of corporate affairs at Anglo American Platinum, says: “Our Sustainable Mining Plan highlights the importance of keeping people and the environment safe, and of using collaborative regional development to provide sustainable benefits for host communities.

“We are pleased to have been part of a more sustainable solution and were able to assist the schools to find a solution to the safety issue that the previous pit latrines posed.”

Hans Masibe has received other help from the company. It is running a project called Lighting Tomorrow at the school, which focuses on “moral regeneration to help learners with behavioural problems”.

It has also provided workshops for teachers, where they are trained to deal with learners and improve their skills. The company has assigned five tutors to help learners with schoolwork. The tutors handle two grades a day.

“We are grateful for what Anglo American has done for our school, especially when it comes to improving learners’ performance,” says the principal.

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