Amnesty International South Africa wrote to you on 17 February 2023, requesting that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) meet its commitment to eradicate all pit toilets at public schools by the end of the 2022/2023 financial year, and to provide a transparent and accurate update on the progress being made.
The end of the financial year has come and gone, Minister, and there is only silence from you and your department.
And, then, another child’s body was found in a pit toilet at a school this week. According to reports, four-year-old Langalam Viki was found dead in a pit toilet in Glen Grey in the Eastern Cape.
Minister, you took an oath to uphold the Constitution. The lack of political will and action we are seeing from you and your department on this issue shows a disregard for – and failure to uphold – this oath. Your department is violating both its domestic and international legal obligations and, by doing so, failing the children, families and communities of this country.
Neither yourself nor your office has responded to the requests made in our letter. So, in an attempt to get a response – and to underline the urgency of this issue – we are publishing an open letter.
We currently do not have readily available access to information about the condition of infrastructure and sanitation facilities at each of the 22,945 public schools in South Africa.
We therefore call on you again, Minister, to make the following public immediately:
- The 2022 National Education Infrastructure Management System report with the breakdown of public schools with pit toilets in each province.
- Last year, Minister, you gazetted amendments to the regulations relating to the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, which contained some concerning provisions, including removing deadlines entirely. The department then said that it would consolidate inputs by 9 September 2022, and embark on a round of consultations between 19 September and 20 October 2022. Did these consultations take place?
- If yes, how far is the process and what is the timeframe in relation to that?
- Is your office still going ahead with the amendments?
Minister, we reiterate our concern that the presence of unsafe ablution facilities, including pit toilets, in public schools is 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 missing deadlines, providing unreliable and inconsistent data, and staying silent on the status of safe sanitation facilities at public schools as well as amendments to the regulations, the DBE is evading accountability. It is thereby further widening the gap of access to quality education in an already unequal school system.
Minister, you and your department must ensure that every learner in South Africa’s right to safe sanitation at school is realised. There can be no further delays and no further silence. No child’s life should be lost because of the failures and shortfalls of government.
Amnesty International South Africa
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; email@example.com
Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196