Date: March 1, 2023 Type: Country:

Government continues to fail learners on eradicating pit toilets

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) must urgently provide an update on the eradication of plain pit toilets in public schools, said Amnesty International South Africa today.

“On 18 May 2022, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga told Parliament that the DBE plans to eradicate pit toilets from all schools within the 2022/23 financial year. This message has been repeated several times in the media by DBE representatives. The financial year ended yesterday, 28 February 2023, and no word from the DBE,” said Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director, Shenilla Mohamed.

“These illegal pit toilets are not only violating the right to sanitation which is enshrined in the Constitution, but also the right to health, education, dignity, and privacy whilst in some cases posing a serious risk to the right to life. By continuing to miss deadlines, which the department has done before, the DBE is showing total disregard for the basic human rights of learners,” Mohamed added.

Unreliable data sets

Furthermore, data sets provided by the DBE regarding progress on the eradication of pit toilets, and overall improved sanitation at schools, is unreliable and inconsistent.

The DBE’s 2021/22 annual report outlines that of the 22,945 public schools in South Africa, 51% use waterborne (municipal and septic), 35% use ventilated improved pit toilets, 13% use plain pit toilets, and 8% use Enviro Loo, a waterless toilet system. It also acknowledges that the biggest sanitation challenge faced by the government are schools with plain pit toilets.

According to Amnesty International South Africa’s calculations, 13% amounts to 2,983 schools still using pit toilets. Yet, there is no clarity on how many of those schools use plain pit toilets only and how many have combined ablution facilities.

The 2021 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report captures school infrastructure information, providing a clear breakdown, including by province, of exactly how many schools still use plain pit toilets or a combination of facilities. According to the 2021 NEIMS report 5,167 schools still had plain pit toilets.

“The 2022 report has not been published, so it’s impossible to compare the annual report’s figures with that in the NEIMS report. Having different data sets and ways of reporting make it inherently difficult to track progress and to hold the government to account on their promises,” said Mohamed.

Amendments to regulations

In addition to missed deadlines and inconsistent data sets, in 2022, the DBE proposed new amendments to the regulations relating to the Minimum Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, first tabled in 2013. The proposed amendments included removing all reference to deadlines, thus effectively removing all further means of legal accountability.

In response, Amnesty International South Africa, alongside partners, called for concrete deadlines to remain in the regulations to aid the planning and budgeting process, thereby ensuring accountability against time-bound targets. The DBE has been silent on the progress of the amendments since.

The DBE’s silence prompted Amnesty International South Africa to write to the department requesting clarity on the status of the proposed amendments as well as progress on the eradication of plain pit toilets at all schools in South Africa. The DBE has not yet replied.

“Amnesty International South Africa calls on the DBE to immediately release the 2022 NEIMS report, and make public national and provincial action plans with concrete targets and deadlines for addressing all school infrastructure that requires upgrading,” said Shenilla Mohamed.

“By missing deadlines, providing unreliable and inconsistent data, and staying silent on the status of plain pit toilets and amendments to the regulations, the DBE is evading accountability, thereby further widening the gap of access to quality education in an already unequal school system.”


Plain pit toilets are unimproved and unventilated pit toilets.

Amnesty International South Africa’s 2020 report, Broken and Unequal: The state of education in South Africa, found that at some schools, the entire school would depend on two or three plain pit toilets. The report recommended that in order for the right to quality, equal basic education to be realised, the government must ensure all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation. This included replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets by the end of 2020 and eradicating all pit toilets completely by 2023.

A follow-up report in 2021, South Africa: Failing to learn the lessons? The impact of COVID-19 on a broken and unequal education system, gauged the impact of Covid-19 on the education system and found that the single largest cut in the 2020 Supplementary Budget was applied to the school infrastructure programme.

As in 2020, it recommended that the government ensure that all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation, including replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets, and adhering to concrete deadlines and targets.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Mienke Mari Steytler, Media and Communications Officer (Maternity Cover), Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224;

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Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196