Human rights organizations and parents are mounting pressure on the South African government to get rid of pit latrines in schools.
It’s estimated that this highly unsafe and undignified form of sanitation is used in over 3,000 schools in rural areas countrywide.
Especially for small children, like those at Jupiter preschool in Limpopo province, the notorious toilets are full of dangers.
While statistics of deaths may not be readily available, as recently as March, yet another child died, this time in the Eastern Cape, after falling into a pit latrine.
Florina Ledwaba, centre manager at Jupiter preschool and crèche in the rural village of Ga-Mashashane, says a number of the children just cannot get used to them.
“The older ones – aged 2 to 3 — prefer using the potty training toilets because they are scared of the pit. They can see the hole and fear they might fall in. They’re not safe at all,” she says.
Ga-Mashashane is on the outskirts of the city of Polokwane, more than 400 kilometres from South Africa’s most populous city of Johannesburg.
Ten years ago, in a nearby village, 4-year-old Michael drowned in a pit latrine. His name is now synonymous with the struggle to provide learners in rural schools with dignified sanitation.
The parents however say the government has failed to keep the promises it made following his death.
“We had an agreement with the government that they would get rid of all the pit latrines in our schools and community where children are at risk,” says his father, James Komape.
“However, when we look around, they only fixed the ones close to Michael’s school and our house. When we go to other sites, many children are still in real danger. And we really don’t want to see something like that happen ever again.”
During a March meeting this year, the Basic Education Department committed to eradicating pit latrines by 2025, but it has already missed several previous deadlines to rid schools of the unsafe toilets.
Rights organisation, Equal Education, has been inspecting pit latrines in schools and says their continued use is indicative of gross inequalities in South African society.
“This generational neglect speaks about how we perceive people in rural areas, right? I think what we are saying about them is that they don’t deserve dignity and that’s why we are not going to provide you with a basic toilet,” says Tiny Lebelo of NGO Equal Education.
“We are not going to give that to you, because you’ve already been using it (pit latrine), so what’s another year or two, or ten, or decades. So we are saying to them, you’re not worthy of dignity. We are saying to them , you are actually at the mercy of us as government.”
Equal Education is one of several local and international NGOs and parents pressuring the government to hasten the eradication of pit latrines from schools across the country.