The existence and use of pit latrines in some of South African schools are a health and safety hazard not only to the learners but to the educators and staff at large. The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) with unions organizing in the education sector aims to address and advocate for the total eradication of pit latrines in schools for the safety of the learners, educators, and support staff.

It is unfortunate that some learners have lost their lives because of pit latrines which continue to put other learners in danger if not eradicated.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 it intends to provide for the health and safety of persons at work and for the health and safety of persons in connection with the use of plant and machinery; the protection of persons other than persons at work against hazards to health and safety arising out of or in connection with the activities of persons at work; to establish an advisory council for occupational health and safety; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The South African Schools Act (Act No. 84 of 1996) states that for the purposes of sub-regulation 1(b)(i), all those schools that do not have access to any form of power supply, water supply or sanitation must be prioritised.

These two Acts and the previous loss of lives should be enough reason to urgently eradicate pit latrines and provide a safe learning and working environment.

While acknowledging the Sanitation Appropriate for Education initiative (SAFE) by the Department of Basic Education, FEDUSA believes more can be done to address the issue of pit latrines that still exist in rural area schools across the country. It is unacceptable that some learners, educators, and support staff are still being subjected to these kinds of conditions in a place that is supposed to be safe for them.

FEDUSA demands to know the progress in the eradication of pit latrines, challenges that exists and what is being done to meet deadlines put in place for the eradication.

To push the government for urgent intervention in eradicating pit latrines, FEDUSA would like the government and responsible departments to think of the families of the 5-year-old Viwe Jali from the Luna Primary School in Bizana, Eastern Cape Province fell into a pit latrine on 12 March 2018 and passed away. Michael Komape who fell into a pit toilet at his school on 20 January 2014, and drowned and Langalam Viki, a 3-year-old who died after falling into a pit toilet at Mcwangele Primary School in Vaalbank village in the Eastern Cape, 6 March 2023.

FEDUSA would also like to know the update on this statement made by the Basic Education Deputy Minister Mhaule “We are challenged by Government priorities that are exceeding the limited resources, but remain hopeful that the majority of infrastructure challenges will have been addressed by March 2024”. The statement was made during a virtual briefing of the Basic Education Portfolio Committee on 7 November 2023.

In the meeting it was also said that according to the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report, South Africa had 23 276 public schools, of which 5 167 still had functional pit toilets, and 2 130 had only pit toilets. Under the SAFE initiative it is said that 2 950 schools have been provided with appropriate sanitation, with 430 projects still to be completed by March 2024.

Therefore, FEDUSA calls on the government and stakeholders to work together, assist in providing training to contractors on how to properly install toilets and urgently prioritize the eradication of pit latrines in school.