Date: Apr 29, 2020

South Africa: Schools must only re-open if all measures have been put in place to keep learners and staff safe

As the Department of Basic Education (DBE) prepares to re-open schools, Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:

“We call on the DBE to be transparent, accountable and progressive in its planning, so that parents, teachers and all those involved know exactly what they can expect and what public health, water and sanitation measures will be put in place to keep them safe.

Our report released in February highlighted that, out of 23,471 public schools, 4,358 still had only illegal pit latrines for sanitation and 37 schools had no sanitation facilities whatsoever. Our field research found some schools lack both decent sanitation and a reliable water supply. At a time when access to water and sanitation is of utmost importance to stay healthy, the lack of this essential provision in schools is deeply worrying.

The DBE must work urgently with the Department for Water and Sanitation to ensure that all schools in South Africa have access to sufficient, safe and reliable water and sanitation without delay. After years of repeated failings and missed targets, there is no better time to start fixing South Africa’s poor education infrastructure. The empty schools provide a perfect opportunity for workers to build and install proper infrastructure in schools without risking their health. Now is the time to fix this problem, once and for all.

We acknowledge that these are uncertain and difficult times for everyone, including for the DBE, but this pandemic is not only a health crisis, but a human rights crisis, and it has emphasised once more that the right to quality education must be defended now and into the future.”


The Department of Basic Education held a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture on Wednesday, 29 April 2020, and is to brief the media at 10 am on Thursday, 30 April 2020.

Amnesty International South Africa’s campaign, Right To Water: Turn On The Tap, calls for the government to recognise that many people in South Africa are denied their constitutional right to water, and to publicly commit to providing equal access to water for everyone – now and always.

Take action here and tell the government to #TurnOnTheTap.


Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224;