Pupils and teachers at Khotyana Senior Primary School in the Eastern Cape are forced to relieve themselves in the bush because the school’s toilets are too dangerous to use.
The old, dilapidated toilets at the school in Khotyana Village, situated in the province’s Mbhashe Local Municipality in Idutywa, are made of asbestos.
When City Press visited the school last week, several of the structures had shifted, blown away by the recent strong winds which left the toilets’ holes exposed and too dangerous to use for some children as young as five.
Principal Nontlalo Nodada said she did not understand why the school was neglected because teachers and the school governing body (SGB) had written several letters pleading with the provincial education department to fix the toilets.
The last letter was written by a teacher, Patiswa Tyali, on March 22 this year.
“Our major concern is that learners may accidentally fall into these toilets which are full and dilapidated. Ever since I was a learner at this school these toilets have never been renovated. I have been a teacher at this school for 16 years and they are still the same as when I was a learner,” Tyali wrote.
“In 2017 learners contracted scabies [a skin infestation from a burrowing mite] due to the dirtiness of these toilets. We are astronomically concerned that there might be other outbreaks due to this situation.”
The school was established in the early 1920s and Nodada says the toilets were built in 1976.
“The school has been using these toilets since 1976, you can imagine how long it has been. They are full, stinking, filthy and in bad condition.
“We have told children to rather relieve themselves in the bushes because we don’t want a situation where a child drowns in there,” Nodada said.
“In fact it has been nothing short of a miracle that no one has drowned because some of the children still use them despite our warnings.”
But toilets are not the only problem at the school.
The primary school, which has 304 pupils aged between five and 13, was built by the community. Not a single structure was provided by government.
The school consists of two blocks of five classrooms each, and a third block housing the staff room and the principal’s office.
Almost all of the ceiling boards in the classrooms are ruined and most of the doors are broken.
The surrounding fence is old and falling apart.
SGB chairperson Qundekane Nozwi said he was very disappointed with government for ignoring their pleas for help.
He said inspectors sent by the provincial education department have visited the school several times over the years with promises of rebuilding it, but nothing has materialised.
“The school was also built of asbestos by the previous government but then the material become ruined and the community decided to build the school using cement bricks. We have not received any assistance from government since the early 1990s,” said Nozwi.
But the toilets are their most urgent problem, he said.
Last Wednesday a number of pupils, who were supposed to be in class, were seen helping to build two toilets.
The materials were bought from donations by the community members.
Nozwi said the two toilets would be for the teachers because they too sometimes relieved themselves in the bushes.
“We just started constructing these toilets last month because the teachers, just like the learners, have to use the bush or ask to use the toilets of neighbours.
“They were using the toilets at the Khotyana Clinic next door but they have been chased away from there. It’s a painful situation,” he said.
Nozwi, a former pupil, said he has six grandchildren attending the school and he was worried about their safety.
“It’s sad to watch our children and grandchildren being exposed to the same situation that we were exposed to so many years after democracy. We thought that at least they would taste the fruits of democracy but it is not happening as we envisaged,” he said.
Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said they were aware of the school’s problems and it was “registered as priority one” in their infrastructure plan.
“It is part of the R70 billion backlog of schools to be built but, unfortunately, it does not form part of the 53 schools currently under construction,” Mtima said.
“With sufficient budget in future, it will be included for replacement.”