Mtundini Saphepha, a primary school caretaker in the Eastern Cape felt lucky to have survived after falling into a dilapidated school pit latrine and almost drowning in human waste. Chillingly, he warned that “if it was one of the children, they wouldn’t have made it.”
Sadly, this is not a unique occurrence. Saphepha’s story mirrors the tragic death of Michael Komape, the five year old learner who died last year after falling into a pit toilet at his school in Limpopo.
The common denominator to both incidents is the crumbling and neglected infrastructures of many of South Africa’s schools, which makes learning a perilous activity. A report released in May noted that 10 419 South African schools still have pit toilets, 3 767 have no or unreliable electricity, and 5 225 have no or an unreliable water supply.
Our partners at Equal Education are tirelessly lobbying the Department of Education to fix these broken institutions through their Norms and Standards campaign. Progress has been made, with the Government having pledged that by November 2016, all schools made entirely from mud, asbestos, wood or metal should have been rebuilt and all schools should have access to water, sanitation and electricity.
There is significant evidence, however, that these reforms have been too slow and remain too shallow. Notably, the Kalalo Primary School in which Mr. Saphepha almost drowned is not included in the Eastern Cape’s provincial improvement plan. It has two buildings in which pupils learn, one mud and one concrete, and this means that it is already deemed “adequate”.
Equal Education have highlighted the uselessness of half-baked reforms and will continue their campaign to fix this and other loopholes in the norms and standards legislation until all learners in South Africa can enjoy access to a genuinely safe learning environment.