Limpopo promises safe toilets at schools after boy’s death

2014-01-26 14:01

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The Limpopo department of education has promised it will eradicate all pit toilets at its schools by the end of March.

Regardless of whether it achieves this, the change will come too late for little Michael Komape (6), who fell to his death in a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village outside Polokwane on Monday.

But the boy’s father isn’t blaming the department. He blames himself for not getting involved at his son’s school.

James Komape is the director of an NGO that is trying to build libraries and sports facilities in his community. He wants children to be safe.

While he was in a community meeting on Monday, Komape received a frantic phone call. His son was missing from school.

He rushed to the school and was greeted by the sight of his son’s body, his hand raised above his head, in a pit toilet.

“Here I was, sitting in a meeting trying to find ways of keeping our children off the streets and out of any danger. Little did I know that my son was dying in the [last place] I’d expect him to be exposed to any danger – at his school,” the grief-stricken father said.

“I blamed myself as a parent. Had I been involved at my son’s school, I could have noticed that the toilets were unsafe with rusty and weak seats, and probably helped get them fixed.

“We need to play a role as parents and get involved and not only leave everything to the [school governing bodies], who may not even bother to look into possible risks and dangers for the children.”

Part of his work with the NGO was inspired by a near-tragedy, when Michael was hit by a taxi last year.

“I believed he got hit because he was loitering in the streets and had nothing to do, and that a library and sports facility would have helped, but now he died at his school.”

It was only Michael’s fourth day at school. He was using one of the four doorless corrugated sheet structures available for pupils.

It’s believed the badly corroded seat caved in. The education department’s spokesperson, Phuti Seloba, said his department was “aware of the amount of risk we’re subjecting our communities to, hence the action to eradicate the pit toilets”. He added: “Come March 31, James Komapeno school should be subjected to this type of sanitation – 2014 is the end of pit toilets in Limpopo.”

According to him, the department had set aside R400?million to provide water and sanitation to schools, to which 868 toilets will be delivered by the end of this financial year – March 31.

Seloba said the national department of basic education had injected more money into the project, building 338 toilets.

“Out of 868 schools on our list, 600 schools have already received proper toilets, while the rest will be delivered by the end of March. We’re also aware that our list is not comprehensive and have urged other schools to enlist themselves so that we end this problem of unsafe and unhygienic toilets.”

Nikki Stein of rights organisation Section27 said they were happy about the department’s undertaking, but were worried that poor auditing may mean that some schools are left out of the plan.

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