Loos lose at city schools

2019-08-05 15:00
With no taps on the basins in a toilet at one local school, excrement is smeared on the adjacent wall.PHOTO: kerushun pillay

With no taps on the basins in a toilet at one local school, excrement is smeared on the adjacent wall.PHOTO: kerushun pillay

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Toilets at KwaZulu-Natal’s public schools are unhygienic, overflowing, short of cleaning equipment and school children are having to raise funds in some cases for them to be cleaned.

The Witness surveyed several local schools — mainly in Edendale, Sweetwaters and Howick — and found:

  • Not a single school reported being able to afford a steady supply of toilet paper, and children, even those in primary school, use their hands to wipe themselves and then wipe their hands on the wall;
  • Most schools visited did not have functioning taps inside toilets;
  • Schools claimed that children were falling ill because of the lack of hygiene;
  • Not a single school was able to afford deep cleaning on a regular basis; and
  • Pupils were throwing rubbish, stones and stationery into toilet bowls and sinks, and had broken toilet fixtures.

This report comes as parents of Mount Ernestina Combined School in Muden, Greytown, tried to meet with the MEC for Education, Kwazi Mshengu, to address a similar problem at that school.

KZN Department of Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi, in response to a detailed query, referred The Witness to Mshengu’s budget speech, which said the department will eradicate 1 377 pit latrines across KZN schools.

A source with knowledge of this situation at schools described toilets as “the most dangerous place” in KZN schools.

The source claimed contractors working for the department were not constructing toilets — many of which are pit latrines — properly. For example, toilets should be painted with an oil-based paint for easy cleaning instead of cheaper PVC paint, but The Witness’ survey of school toilets found that all were indeed painted with PVC paint.

Another issue was that schools were not provided with correct cleaning materials, leaving them to figure it out for themselves. “So what happens is they will put detergents and disinfectants down pit latrines, and this kills the enzymes, worms and bacteria which would turn excrement into fertiliser.

“So with these enzymes and bacteria killed, the septic tank just overflows.”

Schools with pit latrines The Witness visited confirmed they were using detergents to clean them.

“The department will throw lots of money at upgrading a school’s computer lab, but they won’t care about the toilet hygiene,” the source said. “And the solution is not to install water-borne sewage toilets [normal household toilets], pit latrines work just fine so long as they properly maintained.

“We have situations where 1 000 children are having to use one toilet because they are overflowing or pupils just smashed them up because they aren’t working properly.”

The source said toilets should ideally be deep cleaned once a month, but this must be accompanied by a daily programme that ensured the toilets were hygienic.

A principal at one local school confirmed the school did not receive a cent from the department for maintaining toilets, adding that children sometimes had to fund-raise for toilets to be properly cleaned. “You ask any principal what is their biggest nightmare, they’ll say it’s the toilets. Even before they say teaching and learning.

“Children are throwing litter and stones into toilets and we’ve had to pay R20 000 to clear major blockages as well,” said the principal.

Another principal said: “We get cross-examined by the department when a child falls badly sick. But we don’t get any support when it comes to maintenance.”

A microbiologist at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, not authorised to speak to the media, said toilets in these conditions would lead to gastro-intestinal infections.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  school toilets

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