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When will the department meet the school infrastructure backlog?

The issue of pit latrines in our schools remains a bone of contention as many learners still do not have access to proper sanitation, says the writer. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The issue of pit latrines in our schools remains a bone of contention as many learners still do not have access to proper sanitation, says the writer. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Mar 12, 2022

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By Hendrick Makaneta

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently addressed the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign forum where she stressed the need for educators to provide quality teaching. But of course, we all know that quality learning and teaching should take place in a conducive environment.

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For a while now it has become clear that the issue of infrastructure in schools remains unaddressed in many parts of the country, particularly in rural and township schools. Where the work has begun, it is moving at the pace of a snail.

Before we can tell whether our schools are able to provide quality teaching, we must answer the question of whether all our schools have sufficient infrastructure that is conducive for learning. And I guess we all know that we still have a long way to go to address the challenge of infrastructure in our schools.

Today there are still learners who study in an overcrowded classroom. In the Eastern Cape province there are still learners who are expected to cross a river just to go to school. The reality is that most of the provinces in other parts of the country have not experienced maximum growth in the number of learners seeking space in their schools in the same way that Gauteng and the Western Cape have experienced.

Perhaps some of the provincial MECs can do well to learn from their Gauteng counterpart Panyaza Lesufi who has recently prioritised the construction of additional classrooms as he prosecutes the difficult struggle to accommodate more and more learners whose parents seem to flock to the province in search of better opportunities.

Humanity should not forget the role played by Lesufi in improving the quality of education of an African child in Gauteng. Lesufi worked tirelessly to build world-class infrastructure so that learners could enjoy studying in an environment that is comparable to the best in the world. His impressive footprint in the terrain of education is well recorded in the hearts and minds of the people of Gauteng.

The issue of pit latrines in our schools remains a bone of contention as many learners still do not have access to proper sanitation. As activists in the terrain of education, it is our duty to hold the government accountable by among others demanding an improved sanitation to protect our learners and improve their health.

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There is nothing healthy about pit latrines. If anything, pit latrines are an antithesis of socio-economic development and a hallmark of poverty. The untimely death of Michael Komape, may his soul rest in peace, has caused pain and misery, not only to Komape’s family but to South Africans in general. No child deserves to die so prematurely because of falling into a pit latrine. Had the government prioritised the issue of eradicating pit latrines, Komape and others who suffered a similar fate would still be alive. The government must take full responsibility for the untimely death of Komape.

Although Komape was laid to rest eight years ago, it is becoming clear that his death was in vain as we are still sitting with pit latrines as we speak. While we welcomed the Sanitation Appropriate for Education, also known as the Safe initiative, by President Cyril Ramaphosa, which was a culmination of a gathering of different stakeholders to come up with concrete plans to eradicate pit toilets in schools across the country, I must say that maybe we should give the government the benefit of the doubt considering that Covid-19 seems to be an excuse.

It did not have to take the deaths of children for the government to resolve issues of pit toilets. The government has a responsibility to bring about social justice to our learners without favour. It is for this reason that we are extremely pleased that finally something is being done to assist schools that have been struggling for many years to access safe sanitation.

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The other issue is that even though schools will have safe pit latrines in the next two years, if Minister Angie Motshekga’s word is anything to go by, the reality is that the learners may still go home only to be subjected to a pit latrine again as it is common knowledge that most rural communities still make use of such latrines.

This boils down to the call for the government to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Learners are also members of the community before they are learners and if challenges that face the community are not resolved, their effects will continue to find expression at school level. Problems of drugs and gangsterism always find a way to affect the safety of learners and teachers.

The next 24 months are crucial for the state to stick to its own deadline. Whether the government’s deadline is a clear commitment to improve infrastructure or just more cheap talk, only time will tell.

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* Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist who is completing an LLB degree with the University of Pretoria.

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