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Limpopo pit toilet judgment due soon

Lobby groups are petitioning to draft a new plan to eradicate pit latrines at schools. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Lobby groups are petitioning to draft a new plan to eradicate pit latrines at schools. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 10, 2021


Pretoria - Judgment has been reserved in the court battle by Section 27 and Equal Education to force the Department of Basic Education to eradicate pit toilets in Limpopo.

Presiding Judge Gerrit Muller said on Friday in the Polokwane High Court in Limpopo he would soon announce the date at which he would hand down judgment.

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The two lobby groups are petitioning for the provincial department to draft a new plan to eradicate pit latrines at schools.

According to them, the plan should outline how the department intended to address the urgent school sanitation problems in the province.

The lengthy court battle dates from 2016, triggered by the 2014 incident of Grade R learner Michael Komape, who fell into a pit toilet at his primary school in Moletjie in Limpopo.

So far, a little more than 3 000 schools use pit latrines across the country, with most being in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The NGOs argue that the set deadline for 2031 by government to be rid of the pit latrines was unacceptable.

In its heads of argument, the complainants contended that the Department of Education did not provide details of how it had identified 1 658 schools with sanitation needs.

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They are asking the court to appoint a special master – an independent person who is normally appointed by a judge to assist the court in making sure the court order is implemented by bringing additional resources and specialised skills to the case.

Part of the court application follows a 2018 court judgment in which the court ruled that the Limpopo Department of Education must provide an implementation plan outlining when and how the department would remove and replace pit toilets in schools across the province.

In its report to the court, the department said it would only get rid of the pit toilets in 2031.

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During the court proceedings, Advocate Chris McConnachie argued that it was unacceptable for the department to target 2031 for getting rid of pit toilets.

Rebutting that, defending lawyer Advocate Simon Phaswane bemoaned budget constraints.

“There is a tendency by these groups to force the government to do things without a budget. If the defendant claimed the whole budget to eradicate pit toilets I’m quite certain there would be another court case about text books or feeding schemes,” Phaswane said.

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However, Section 27 spokesperson Nonsikelelo Mpulo rubbished Phaswane’s argument.

Speaking to the Pretoria News in the court corridors, Mpulo said: “That argument cannot hold water at all. The government has known for years that there are pit toilets and has failed to spend the money adequately. Now they come and complain about the budget. They must just do what is right.”

Clad in a T-shirt inscribed with “do you know Michael?”, Mpulo said there were about five children who had died in recent years because of the pit latrines.

A year before Komape’s death, another child, 7-year old Lister Mogonwana died after the walls of a pit toilet fell on him at Mmushi Primary School.

“In 2015 we instituted this because of Michael. Sanitation in Limpopo has become a problem. They had promised to get rid of them by 2011, then they said 2016… we are now at 2021 and they are postponing to 2031.

“So we are just asking them to table a plan that will assess the situation, a plan that is coherent and immediate because according to the Constitution it should be realisable,” Mpule said.

In a statement by the department on Thursday, a day before the case was to be heard, it said there was progress.

It read: “The Department of Basic Education, together with provincial governments, has made great strides in efforts to replace pit latrines with appropriate sanitation facilities for schools in the country.

“The Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative was launched in August 2018 to accelerate the provision of sanitation facilities in the identified schools.

“The original number of schools which was reported by the provincial departments of education as schools dependent on basic pit toilets was 3 898.

“There were several changes to the list since the start of the programme, mostly due to rationalisation of schools and site assessments that confirmed appropriate sanitation.”

Pretoria News