The disturbing revelation of a principal lowering an 11-year-old learner into a pit latrine to retrieve his cell phone has once again cast the spotlight onto the dire lack of proper sanitation facilities in the Eastern Cape.
The Democratic Alliance is calling for the Eastern Cape Department of Education to explain the delays in the eradication of pit latrines, and provide a comprehensive plan to address this once and for all.
Despite several cases in recent years, including an incident where a child tragically lost her life, the Department has done nothing to prioritise the eradication of pit latrines.
In fact, the rate of sanitation facility upgrades has been slowing down year-on-year, and at the current rate will take almost 50 years to eradicate pit latrines and provide the learners of this province with proper sanitation facilities.
In a capable state, every available resource would be geared towards eradicating these appalling sanitation conditions at schools.
There are 1500 schools in the Eastern Cape that do not have safe, hygienic sanitation facilities. These schools’ upgrades are the responsibility of the national SAFE (Sanitation Appropriate For Education) programme, which has been an absolute failure.
In the 2016/17 financial year, the Department managed to upgrade the sanitation facilities of 88 schools. In 2017/18, they managed to upgrade 86 schools and the year after that, in the 2018/19 financial year, they only managed 44 schools.
In 2019/20, just 32 schools were upgraded, when the original target was 262 but was then reduced to 178, and in the 2020/2021 financial year just 24 schools had their sanitation facilities upgraded, when the target was 240.
The Department is constantly lowering its standards, while the dignity of learners’ is overlooked.
As the Department drags its heels, more and more learners are being placed at risk, just like the 11-year-old learner, whose life and dignity was worth less to his principal than a cell phone. Just like five-year-old Lumka Mkhethwa who lost her life to a pit latrine.
How many more children must become victims before MEC Fundile Gade and his department prioritise the safety of all learners?
I will be writing to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on Education, Mpumelelo Saziwa, to request that the Department and the officials from the SAFE initiative are summoned to present the reason behind the annual decreased outcomes; and provide the committee with an urgent plan to accelerate the provision of safe sanitation for our learners.
The Democratic Alliance will continue to fight for safe, hygienic sanitation facilities for every learner in this province. No child should be deprived of their dignity.