Another pit latrine death as billions are cut from school infrastructure project

A pit toilet built in 1957. Picture: File
A pit toilet built in 1957. Picture: File

Another pupil has died in a pit latrine, yet about R3.5 billion will be cut from the Accelerated School Infrastructure initiative in the next three years.

This was confirmed by the department of basic education yesterday, following the death of five-year-old pupil Lumka Mketwa, who drowned after falling into a pit latrine at Luna Primary School in Bizana, in the Eastern Cape.

The education department incorrectly named the child in a statement as Viwe Jali, but this was corrected by Equal Education today, who spoke to the provincial department of education this morning.

“We are horrified by this error. We reiterate that we are angered at the continued, crass disregard for the interests of learners, particularly those who are poor and black. That the two departments incorrectly identified the little girl, who died as a consequence of their failures, beggars belief,” Equal Education said.

“The programme is not stopping, but due to budget cuts, it will mean that the roll-out of the programme is going to be prolonged,” Troy Martens, media liaison officer for the minister of basic education told City Press.

“We have made huge strides and are prioritising schools that need the most help first,” Martens said of the infrastructural development in schools in the Eastern Cape.

Currently 5 225 maintenance projects are under way around the country and the Eastern Cape had already exhausted its maintenance budget, the department said yesterday.

Equal Education argued that budget cuts were not meant to be used as an excuse by the department for the lack of service delivery, and that both the provincial and national departments of basic education have in the past “underspent”.

“In 2015, the Eastern Cape department of education underspent its school infrastructure budget by R530 million. In 2017 the national department received R1.57 billion from national treasury to build schools in the Eastern Cape through its Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative programme. However, it underspent that budget by R415 million,” co-head of Eastern Cape Equal Education, Amanda Rinquest, said.

Rinquest said that the ineffectiveness of dedicated school infrastructure planning was a result of poor planning.

In yesterday’s statement, minister of basic education Angie Motshekga expressed her condolences to the family, calling the incident “tragic”.

“The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable, and incredibly disturbing. I would like to send my sincere condolences to the family of our Lumka Mketwa [incorrectly named as Viwe Jali], who passed away tragically on Tuesday. I cannot begin to know the trauma the parents are experiencing, it is truly a tragic incident and my sympathies are with them,” Motshekga said.

The department has been severely criticised.

Equal Education placed the blame for the tragedy on Minister Motshekga, on basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli, on Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula, and on Eastern Cape education department head Themba Kojana.

The organisation also criticised the ANC for the lack of improvement on the lives of poor black people.

“It is becoming increasingly evident that the ruling party has no plan to improve the lives of poor black people – the government of South Africa forces parents to send children to schools that are unsafe, for learning to take place in an undignified environment.”

The death of Mketwa brought back memories.

In January 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape fell into a dilapidated pit latrine as his school in Limpopo.

“Justice for the Komape family and for Mketwa’s family are necessary steps toward justice for all South African families who are compelled to send their children to unsafe schools,” Equal Education said.

According to a response that was submitted by the department of basic education in February 2017, 61 schools in the Eastern Cape have no sanitation, whilst 1585 schools in the province have plain pit latrines.

Equal Education however disputes these figures, after the data reported by the National Education Infrastructure Management System for January 2018 says that 1945 schools in the Eastern Cape in fact operate with plain pit latrines.

Meanwhile, The South African Human Rights Commission has launched a provincial investigation into the death of Mketwa.

“The provincial department will be called to publically account for state of infrastructure in schools across the province,” the commission said today.

The commission also requested an urgent meeting with Motshekga.

Speaking to City Press, the commissioner responsible for basic education, Andre Gaum, said that the budget cuts were concerning.

“The budget cuts are of great concern as it impacts on access to basic human rights. The basic education system is not working as well as it should. With the budget cuts, it appears as if the money which has been put into basic education has been placed elsewhere and this is concerning,” Gaum said.

Avantika Seeth
Multimedia journalist
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001  e:
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