Sanitation backlogs in schools: DBE briefing; Sanitation Technologies and Innovations: Water Research Commission briefing

Water and Sanitation

07 November 2018
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC) and Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education presented the implementation plan to address sanitation backlogs at schools to the joint Portfolio Committees. It highlighted that of the country’s 23 334 active schools, 3 898 still had pit latrines as the only form of sanitation. The provinces with the highest number of pit latrines were the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. A major challenge faced was that even where proper sanitation had been provided, pit latrines had not been demolished and because these were not age appropriate, young children were affected the most. The Department had targeted to have all pit latrines countrywide demolished by the end of the 2019/20 financial year.

The Water Resource Commission emphasised the importance of pit toilets being eliminated to preserve the dignity of people. What also needed be taken into consideration when building the toilets was gender, the needs of the handicapped, hygiene and physical safety.

Members asked why the State had not used its own resources to resolve the issue, as it had the capacity. Where implementing agents were used, how did the DBE assess their readiness and capacity to deliver? They also asked about the maintenance of the toilet facilities once they had been built; where the budgeted funds allocated to the Department had been factored in; and drew attention to particular schools which required immediate attention before the beginning of the new school year.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

Co-Chairperson Gina emphasised that by 2020, there should no longer be an issue with improper toilets in the schools, and the dignity of the learners would be restored.

Co-chairperson Johnson referred to two recent deaths. One had involved a one-year old toddler who had fallen into a dark and unattended borehole in Tzaneen. The other had been a 20-year old man who had drowned in Yandoni Dam. He emphasised that sanitation was a serious matter in schools and that the African child was exposed to this. The matter called for the urgency it deserves. He challenged the private sector to provide more support in restoring dignity to those who have stripped of it.
DBE on implementation plan to address sanitation backlogs
Mr Solly Mafoko, Chief Director: Infrastructure,Department of Basic Education (DBE), said there were 23 334 active schools that were not closed and were in use. Of these, 6 938 still had pit toilets on site and 1 781 enviro-loos; there were 7 523 Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) toilets; 3 036 flush toilets with septic tanks; 8 000 flush toilets using municipal water; as well as mobile, chemical and alternative sanitation which had been provided to the schools.

The audit conducted revealed that there were no schools without any form of sanitation. There were 10 661 schools with an issue with regard to sanitation. 3 898 schools had only pit latrines and unacceptable sanitation, 3 040 schools had proper sanitation but the pits had not been demolished as communities refused, because they could not rely on service delivery, 7 274 schools were in need of Grade R or disabled toilets, and 2 103 schools did not have adequate seats for the number of students enrolled due to an influx of people into certain provinces. Some schools were faced with more than one of these issues, therefore the numbers did not tally up to 10 661.

The Western Cape, Northern Cape and Gauteng had addressed the issue of pit latrines and did not have any pit latrines left. The major challenge was faced in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. KwaZulu-Natal had pit latrines across the entire province, the Eastern Cape concentration of pit latrines was found the in the former homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, and Limpopo had a similar phenomenon where pit latrines where found in the Vhembe and Sekhukhune districts. These three provinces were where 80-90% of the backlog was situated.

To date, the Department had completed 210 new schools with inappropriate structures -- that is, pit latrines replaced with enviro-loos, VIP toilets or other sanitation technologies. On the stand-alone project with the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), the Department had completed 632 projects. Further, the provincial programme managed by provinces through the Education Infrastructure Grant had implemented 1 557 projects across all provinces, and 659 had reached practical completion. The DBE had prioritised the demolition of the pit latrines by the end of the 2019/20 financial year. Further, all the projects that had been completed and those that were still in implementation would have a maintenance strategy. The Department had targeted that in the next four years, the budget should move to an allocation of 60/40 in favour of maintenance. It had also looked into other sanitation technologies to restore the dignity of the learners.

Included in the consolidated cost of the provision of facilities was the new VIP toilets, the demolition of pit latrines, provision of boreholes, preliminaries, contingencies, escalation, Professional Service Provider (PSP) fees, disbursement and implementing agent fees. The total consolidated cost was R6.83 billion. The Department had noticed that there were cost savings when the projects were implemented in-house. Therefore, it would implement some of the projects in-house, together with the help of its sister Department, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The DSB planned to use the expanded public works programme (EPWP) unit and the National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC) for demolitions.

In terms of partnerships, AVBOB had allocated R15 million for the construction of toilets in schools in Mpumalanga, of which nine have already been identified. Anglo American South Africa had R100 million for all sustainable education programmes, including sanitation provision, and R 20 million had been estimated to assist in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. Unilever was partnering with the DBE on World Toilet Day on 19 November 2018, and were yet to determine what role they would play thereafter.

Water Research Commission on Rural School Sanitation

Dr Pillay Sudhir, Research Manager: Sanitation, Water Research Commission (WRC) brought World Toilet Day to the attention of the Members. He said that toilets save lives, and that the British Medical Journal readers had voted the toilet as the best medical innovation in the last 150 years.

The toilet system had not changed much in the last 200 years. Therefore, what the WRC had come up with was new re-engineered toilets which did not use as much energy and reused water, but still met user-confidence. The major component of these new toilets was that it could treat the sludge, which was one of the biggest problems and costs related with maintenance of toilets.

The major challenge faced with pit latrines was that when sludge built up and accumulated, it needed to be disposed of, but there was limited technical knowlege on how latrines functioned, and how to empty and dispose of pit contents.

The WRC had invested in understanding why school sanitation was failing in some schools but was successful in others. It had visited 130 schools across KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. It had found that in terms of safety, only half were in good condition, and a quarter were missing pit covers and needed more lighting. The health hazard was that there was no hand-washing soap and limited bins were provided, and only 41% had cleaners. With regard to dignity, only 36% had windows, 57% had doors, and 41% of learners experienced some form of bullying.

Some of the technologies developed included the Pour Flush Technology, which used about 1-2 litres of water and had a separate leach pit which was easy to access for emptying. The Low Flush Application saved about 40%-70% of water compared to the normal flush, and the Re-Invented Toilet Applications did not require sewers and used little to no constant water supply.


Co-Chairperson Johnson emphasised that the aim of the Department was to do away with the undignified toilet systems by the end of the 2019/20. The State had sufficient capacity, with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) having its own construction unit, and the Army with skilled personnel, so the Department should look into in-sourcing.

Ms B Maluleke (ANC) commented that it was strange that children were still falling into pit latrines while the State had the capacity. She asked how the Department was addressing provinces which failed to use their conditional grants. Secondly, where provinces did not meet their targets for infrastructure due to the implementation agents – the Department of Public Works, for example -- had the DBE engaged with those agents to establish their readiness and capacity to deliver on time? Lastly, she asked for an update on the projects that had been put on hold in the Eastern Cape due to an over-commitment.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) asked whether infrastructure was built according to race. One would find pit latrines and VIP toilets as opposed to normal flush toilets in the black schools and communities. She emphasised that it had been five years, but they were still faced with the same issues.

Mr X Ngwezi (IFP) argued that even where pit toilets existed, they were full. He had visited a school in the Eastern Cape where the school used a jojo tank as a septic system. The school had previously been raised as an issue, but not one official had visited it. He emphasised that the State had capacity but still nothing had been done. It appeared that it was quicker to demolish than it was to construct.

The Co-Chairperson intervened and required a direct response from the DBE on the action to be taken on the school identified by Mr Ngwezi in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Mzwandile Matthews, Head: Monitoring & Evaluation Oversight Unit, DBE, responded that the school formed part of the 3 898 schools identified for intervention, and that an official would be sent the following day. The draft management plan on the 3 898 schools prioritised the most distressed provinces. The allocation suggested by the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) would come into effect in 2019/20. An allocation of R3.4 billion had been made in Chapter 4 of The Red Book which would be distributed to the provinces, and the Department was looking to ring fence this allocation for sanitation. The roll out of the management plan had begun, with the help of Assupol, Lonmin and AVBOB. The Minister had elevated the roll out of the project to her office.

Through the Co-Chairperson, the Committee instructed the DBE to have the facilities constructed at the school identified by Mr Ngwezi by the beginning of the new school year.

Ms C King (DA) said that a court judgment had been won by Equal Education, declaring that some of the regulations had created a loophole for government departments to get away with not providing facilities to schools. Section 4.5a stated that it was subject to other departments to getting on board if they had the necessary resources. The Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) had presented to the Portfolio Committee on the infrastructure in schools, and the one clear factor they mentioned was that the DBE did not have clear performance and evaluation indicators. She emphasised that the DBE had cost considerations, but there were no timelines for the completion of projects. She asked whether there had been any more backlogs in the 2017/18 financial year. She also wanted to know why there had been a downscale in the number of projects implemented, from the 992 that had previously been presented to the Select Committee, to the 942 projects presented to the Portfolio Committee.

Mr A Botes (ANC) said that sanitation issues had been part of the Millennium Development Goals which came to an end in 2015. Sanitation had been priority number 6 of the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations. He was concerned that there were 3 040 pit latrines that still needed to be demolished where adequate sanitation existed by the end of the 2019/20 financial year. He stressed that there needed to be a sense of urgency, and they should be demolished by February next year. He also commented that the presentation had not referred to boarding schools in the rural areas.

Ms J Basson (ANC) said that she would have liked the names of the schools and the districts to which they belonged, included. She asked whether the DBE assessed the readiness and capacity of the implementing agency to deliver on time.

Mr H Khosa (ANC) asked why the national minimum norms and standards for infrastructure in Volume 1 2009 differed from the norms for the provision of standard facilities presented by the Department. Was the maintenance of the facilities being built being monitored? What was the minimum cost to build one toilet seat? Was it possible to use the DWS construction unit, the Army, the EPWP and the communities themselves to construct these facilities?

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) said that the WRC presentation was too vague and was not measurable. Therefore, it made it difficult to hold anybody accountable. He requested that the presentation be simplified to allow for the engagement of the Members.

Mr R Hugo (DA) asked the DBE whether the staff toilets were better than those of the learners. Did the norms and standards for the facilities make provision for the staff, or they were separately catered for?

Mr L Basson (DA) commended the joint venture of the DBE and DWS, and said he would like to see this going forward. He liked the suggestion to change the name of the people who cleaned and monitored toilets every day, to Health and Safety Officers.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) asked where the money that had been budgeted for the Department was, as they had shown only the money which had been pledged through partnerships. She was concerned with the WRC recommendation to require learners to pay for the maintenance of the facilities, similar to how citizens were expected to pay R2 to use the toilet facilities in town, as this continued to impact on the poor. She also stressed that the issue of sanitary towels was still very prevalent, and she would like to see the school governing bodies (SGBs) come to account for this. Also, learners were made to clean the toilets without being provided with gloves to protect themselves.

DBE’s Response

Mr Matthews responded that the DBE was not shying away from its responsibilities behind the concurrent functions in conjunction with what the provinces were meant to do. Funds followed the function, so if the delivery of a project was provincial, then it would be delivered at that level. Therefore, the accountability went with that in accordance with the law. The Department could then do strict monitoring to ensure that delivery was executed at that level.

He commented that the Department would sharpen the presentation and provide timelines, as requested by the Members. He indicated that the Ministry was appealing the ruling of the Bisho High Court, as there were considerations that the court did not consider with regards to the norms and standards.

He stressed that the DBE was not hiding behind the monies that had been pledged. The Safe Sanitation project which had been launched in August by the President had not launched with DBE funding. The funding used had been made available by ASIDI and the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). The issue would be monitoring that the projects were delivered.

The roll-out of the ASIDI project did not include the 3 898 schools with pit latrines, as these had already been identified. The R3.4 billion stated as part of the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement would go through the EIG to the provinces and would not come in a lump sum, but as R1 billion in the first year, R1.1 billion in the second, and R1.3 billion in the third. The Department planned to ensure that the remaining schools would not be more than the schools already addressed by the end of 2019/20 financial year.

Mr Mafoko responded that the Department monitored the expenditure of the provinces and if they were of the opinion that the province would not be able to use its conditional grant, they either withheld or transferred it to other provinces. A mechanism was also put into place in provinces which were not spending, to assist in overcoming the under-spending. The Department was no longer allocating projects to implementing agents, but rather assisting in the completion of projects which were already under way. The issue of over-commitment in the Eastern Cape was currently being dealt with and presentations had been made to the Provincial and National Treasury. What the Department had found was that spending had been slow and projects had begun to hit the ground in previous financial years.

He said that the DBE did not prioritise schools by colour. More than 98% of the infrastructure funds had been allocated to rural black schools. Previously, former model C schools had been provided with these facilities, but not much more funds were being pumped into these schools. The downscaling in the number of school projects was as a result of schools closing and therefore being removed from the programme, as this would be wasteful expenditure. The Department kept a master list in order to be able to account for the number of projects originally allocated for. It was able to identify the boarding schools that needed attention in accordance with the master list. It would provide the Members with a list of all the schools which were part of the programme.

The Department did not have enough capacity to monitor and verify that the work had been done, so it made use of the Project Support Units (PSUs). The Department was looking to explore the use of the DWS to help them with the monitoring. There were statutory monthly meetings with the implementing agents, but the teams met on a more regular basis. The Department made use of the norms and standards used in the 2013 version.

The DBE emphasised that important variables to consider were the number of learners, material and technologies and terrain, which impacted on the cost of the construction of toilets. The norms and standards had been promulgated in 2013, therefore projects that were implemented prior to this would differ. Staff were given separate facilities and merged with the rest of the facilities. In many schools, it was seen that staff had better facilities than learners, but the maintenance of these facilities would hopefully bridge the gap.

Dr Pillay clarified that the cost of using the toilet facilities would not be for the student, but a cost that the school would have to pay.

Mr Mafoko said that the reason for increasing the funds allocated to maintenance was to ensure that programmes were properly implemented. The Department had developed maintenance guidelines but the issue remained because it had a human component to it. The Department was working towards training SGBs, principals and educators regarding their roles and responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of the school, as well as the implementation of SGB committees.

Conclusion/closing remarks

Co-Chairperson Johnson mentioned that the issue of maintenance was becoming very clear and prevalent. There was a deadline of 2019/20 for the demolition of undignified sanitation facilities. He encouraged collaboration with other departments to achieve the common goal.

The meeting was adjourned.


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