Pit latrines at schools: 'When you return to class, the smell of the poo remains in your clothes'

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Learners at Mtakatye Junior Secondary School wash their hands using water from used wine box bags.
Learners at Mtakatye Junior Secondary School wash their hands using water from used wine box bags.
Mkhuseli Sizani
  • Learners at Mtakatye and Lwandile junior secondary schools in the Eastern Cape relieve themselves outside because the schools' pit latrines are too dangerous.
  • The 2021 National Education Infrastructure Management System stated that 1 473 schools in the province still had pit latrines.
  • The department only has plans to address the pit latrines at 69 of those schools this financial year.

Flies buzz and the smell of excrement hangs over Mtakatye and Lwandile junior secondary schools in Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape. This is because learners have been forced to relieve themselves in open fields as the schools have no safe toilets.

Mvelelo Bumazela, the principal of Mtakatye in Mamolweni Village, said when he was appointed in 2017 the construction of a new school block with 10 flush toilets had not been completed, and the new toilets were being used for storage, GroundUp reported.

He said he had written to the Eastern Cape education department several times and asked for the construction to be completed, "but I never received assistance".

READ | Limpopo education department in breach of order to get rid of school pit latrines, court hears

Bumazela said the school didn't have money for a "honey sucker" to clear the pit latrines. The old pit latrines are subsiding and unsafe.

The school has 464 pupils who share the 12 pit latrines with teachers.

Xoliswa Mhlaba, a departmental head at the school who also arrived in 2017, said the stench at the toilet block "makes me sick".

The school fence is broken, and stray dogs scare the children. There is no access control, and the principal worries that children will wander down to the sea at nearby Presley Bay.

There are four water tanks, but only one tank with a capacity of 5 000 litres is operating. Pupils have to wash their hands using water-filled old wine box foil bags (papsak).

Sinawo Mkhamndeli, a 17-year-old Grade 8 learner, said:

When you return to class other learners can easily tell that you came from the toilet because the smell of the poo remains in your clothes.

"The state of our toilets is terrible. They stink and are very deep. The walls and roofs shake on windy days. The doors are broken. Sometimes we find snakes because there is tall grass next to the toilets," said Mkhamndeli.

School governing body chairperson Mkhombeni Gxutshuza said when they complained to the department about the toilet project being unfinished, they were provided with two mobile toilets, but the department has since taken them back.

Things are as bad at Lwandile Junior Secondary School in Lwandile Village, a kilometre away. The school fence is also broken. The school has 620 pupils. They share 10 pit latrines with the teachers.

Maliviwe Dayi, a former pupil and current member of staff at the school, said Grade R, 1, 2 and 3 learners relieved themselves outside because the pit latrines were too dangerous.

"The smell of excrement fills up the nearby classrooms and the kitchen. As you go inside those toilets, an unpleasant smell welcomes you, and flies are buzzing."

According to him, dogs and pigs enter the school yard because the fence is broken. "They are looking for food leftovers from our school nutrition programme. From there, they move into the garden and feast on learners' poo."

Itumeleng Mothlabane, Equal Education (EE) provincial head of organising, said it was disappointing that the education department was still facing sanitation backlogs nearly 10 years after the minimum norms and standards policy was adopted.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the Sanitation Appropriate for Education initiative in 2018, there has not been a significant improvement, said Mothlabane.

"According to the 2021 National Education Infrastructure Management System report there are still 1 473 schools* in the Eastern Cape that have plain pit latrines that need to be replaced, with 944 of those schools having no sanitation facilities besides these illegal plain pit latrines."

According to Mothlabane, at an online presentation to the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature Portfolio Committee on Education in May last year, the Department of Education reported that it would target 69 schools for proper sanitation in the current financial year.

Mothlabane said:

This is a small number… This shows a lack of urgency in eradicating plain pit latrines in the province.

In October, GroundUp reported about overflowing and broken pit latrine toilets at Mnceba Senior Secondary School in Ntabankulu, Dudumayo Senior Secondary School in Mqanduli, and Nduku Junior Secondary School in Engcobo.

Malibongwe Mtima, provincial education department spokesperson, said the district director had advised the principal of Lwandile Junior Secondary School to use the school maintenance budget to convert existing toilets to accommodate lower grade learners.

Mtima said the district was still investigating the abandoned Mtakatye school toilets project.

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