OPINION | It may take government 36 years to fix Eastern Cape school toilets fiasco

Yusuf Cassim.
Yusuf Cassim.
Image: Michael Pinyana

The appalling state of sanitation facilities at schools in the Eastern Cape show how little regard the Department of Education has for the learners under its care. The current implementation rate to address backlogs in eradicating pit latrines means that three generations of learners will never know the dignity of proper sanitation facilities.

Rather than taking drastic steps to eradicate the pit latrines at schools, Education MEC Fundile Gade would rather accuse parents of murdering their own children and dumping them at school facilities to claim compensation from the state.

This week I, together with Désirée van der Walt, MP, the DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Basic Education, and other DA councillors visited a number of schools that have been earmarked as beneficiaries for the National Education Department’s Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative for the 2019/20 financial year.

With a backlog of 1 598 schools in need of upgraded sanitation facilities in the province, and only 44 of the targeted 169 sanitation facilities completed in the last financial year, at the current rate of implementation it will take over 36 years to address the backlog.

This financial year the targeted schools for SAFE projects in the Eastern Cape have increased to 262.

The schools we visited included Emabaleni Combined School and Hoho Senior Secondary School in Dimbaza, Whiteville Primary School in Ngcamngani and Mceula Primary School in the Chris Hani District.

The sanitation facilities at these schools are in a dismal state. Learners are forced to use pit latrine toilets with no doors or partition walls. The toilets are insufficient for the volume of learners, and in some cases are too big for younger learners, posing a real risk that they could fall into the latrines.

The conditions are extremely unhygienic and pose a very real health and safety risk to learners.

No construction of sanitation facilities has started at any of the schools visited, with Whiteville Primary School already being told construction will only begin in the next financial year. Mceula has had no confirmation on when construction will start.

It is clear from these oversights that there is no way the department is going to meet its target this year.

It is also a real concern that projects that should have started in April that have not started yet, will now be rushed to meet deadline, resulting in shoddy workmanship.

I have already raised my concerns regarding the backlog in the portfolio committee for Education late last year, when a list was circulated with all schools having the same end construction date.

I will be submitting parliamentary questions to MEC, Fundile Gade, in order for him to provide reasons as to the conditions faced at these schools and will be raising these findings at the next education portfolio committee meeting.

MP van der Walt will also take the plight of these schools up in Parliament, as it is clear that the SAFE initiative is a complete failure.

Where the DA governs, the health and welfare of both learners and teachers is considered at all times.We will keep fighting for the safety and dignity of learners to ensure that #nochildisleftbehind.

Yusuf Cassim, DA MPL

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