Gauteng school sanitation woes: four concerning findings

Following the release of their schools social audit findings, CapeTalk and 702’s Redi Tlhabi spoke with Equal Education’s (EE) national spokesperson Nombulelo Nyathela, and their junior organiser (who was the chief auditor of the social audit) Sfiso Mollo.

In March and April, EE and a Gauteng -wide coalition conducted a social audit on the school conditions of 200 000 students in more than 200 schools in over 20 different communities in Gauteng.

Here are four of their major findings:

1. Over 100 students per toilet: At about 30 percent of high schools they audited, more than 100 students share a single working toilet. By comparison, according to the Wits Justice Project, 65 men share a single toilet at the unacceptably overcrowded Johannesburg Medium A prison.

2. Broken toilets: One out of every five school toilets in Gauteng are locked or broken.

When we went on the ground we found that most of the toilets in the schools were locked, blocked or clogged because there is not enough maintenance staff. So, if the toilets are not being maintained, they are bound to be broken. Also, if learners don’t have access to toilet paper and use other materials, the toilets become clogged. One of the worst schools we found was Steve Biko Primary School in Orange Farm.

Sfiso Mollo., Equal Education organiser

3. No soap, toilet paper or sanitary pads: Nearly 70 percent of students do not have soap in their schools while more than 40 percent of students do not have any access to toilet paper or sanitary pads in their schools. This problem is particularly acute in secondary schools, where funds are stretched in overcrowded schools.

4. Not enough maintenance staff: Over a quarter of schools have over 400 students for a single maintenance staff member. Maintenance staff members are overwhelmed at schools.

School infrastructure directly affects learner outcomes

Despite greater distinctions between urban and rural schools, Nyathela says that there is a causal link between pupil comfort and their academic performance.

All schools in Gauteng have access to water and electricity, whereas if you look at our rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and in the Eastern Cape (EC), there are many schools that don’t have access to those basic services. Those are the distinctions, and of course , the scales are much larger in rural areas. In Gauteng we are speaking about sanitation as a prominent problem in schools that actually have buildings, whereas if you got to other rural areas, you will find very inadequate infrastructure, mud and shack schools. So in Gauteng, they are talking about toilets that are not broken, flush and have running water. Whereas, KZN, the EC and Limpopo there are pit latrines. Either way though, it is still inadequate infrastructure for these learners, and there are still too many learners that are studying under horrible conditions.

Plans not yet in place for respective provinces

The audit represents the next step in EE’s Gauteng School Sanitation Campaign and its Michael Komape Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure Implementation Campaign, named after Michael Komape, the name of the six-year old, Grade R learner from Chebeng Village, Limpopo who died when he fell into a pit latrine toilet at his school in January 2014.

The Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure is a law that EE won in November 2013 and it sets out binding time frames and standards for items like water, sanitation, electricity, libraries, laboratories and other essential physical infrastructure for schools. However, these targets and deadlines have not been set by the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, according to Nyathela.

Also read our article: 'I feel deeply embarrassed, I'll fix it'- MEC Lesufi on Gauteng school toilets.

Listen to the full conversation on the Redi Tlhabi show:

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