Date: Feb 14, 2020

South Africa: More commitment and action is needed on the right to quality basic education

In response to last night’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:

“The time for platitudes is over. President Cyril Ramaphosa waxed lyrical on what the government has achieved for education but didn’t touch on the challenges facing thousands of children in the country.

“In his 2019 address, the President said that since the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative was launched in August 2018, 699 schools had been provided with safe and appropriate sanitation facilities and that a further 1 150 schools are either in the planning, design or construction stages. This is against a backdrop of nearly 4 000 schools according to the government’s own figures that still have pit toilets.

“No mention was made last night of change on this over the last year, which is is disappointing because progress is painfully slow and it points to the very real possibility that the government will yet again miss another target – this time of eradicating pit latrines from all schools by February 2022.

“Our report Broken and Unequal: The State of Education in South Africa launched this week outlines that not only is the government’s failure to address the broken education system a question of accountability, it entrenches inequality further and has consequences for the life chances of thousands of young people in this country,” added Shenilla Mohamed.

“With this in mind, we will continue to call on the Government to act on their promise to replace all pit toilets in schools with concrete deadlines and actions. Missing targets can no longer be tolerated and according to the government’s own latest figures with an estimated nearly 4 000  schools still with pit toilets as their only form of sanitation, urgent action is needed now.

“We want to see not just a genuine commitment but also a serious plan of action with concrete progression targets and deadlines to address these challenges without further delay if the government is to live up to its domestic and international obligations with regard to the right to quality education.

“The President’s commitment to strengthen the capacity of state and increase accountability through performance agreements with ministers is encouraging but the impact thereof remains to be seen.

“Otherwise a child’s experience of education in South Africa will continue to depend on where they are born, how wealthy they are, and the colour of their skin with inequality entrenching itself even deeper in our society. The people are watching and waiting.” 


The State of the Nation Address (SONA), at the annual opening of Parliament usually in February, is an address to the nation by the President of the Republic of South Africa. The President addresses a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. It focuses on the current political and socio-economic state of the nation.

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

Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 11 283 6033 (office) or +27 (0)64 890 9224 (mobile);