Nguvu Collective Petition to Eradicate Pit Latrines; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

07 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee met on a virtual platform to consider a petition calling for the eradication of pit latrines in schools in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. The petition had over 5 000 signatures demanding urgent action to replace the pit latrines because of the safety and health hazards they posed.

A petitioner asserted that education had become life-threatening for learners in South African rural schools. Beyond that, it had become a human rights violation. It was saddening to see, almost 30 years into democracy, children and teachers relieving themselves in death traps that were pit latrines -- or even worse, resorting to open defecation.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) provided an update on the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme aimed at replacing pit latrines. The DBE noted progress, but acknowledged that funding and capacity constraints had impacted the pace of delivery. Under the SAFE programme, 2 950 schools have been provided with appropriate sanitation, with 430 projects still to be completed by March 2024. Under the ASIDI, 1 087 schools had been provided with appropriate sanitation. The DBE aimed to eradicate all inappropriate sanitation by 2025.

The petitioners expressed frustration at the continued deaths of children in pit latrines and the lack of urgency by the DBE to meet targets. They called for quarterly progress reports and the eradication of all pit latrines by November 2024. Committee Members questioned the underspending of infrastructure grants, delays in projects, poor maintenance of facilities, and the role of implementing agents. The KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Limpopo provincial education departments provided overviews of their progress.

In conclusion, the Committee recommended that the petitioners engage directly with the DBE to get updated figures and timelines for eradicating the remaining pit latrines. The Committee would continue monitoring the DBE's progress on this critical issue.

Meeting report

The meeting commenced with the tabling of apologies.

The Chairperson welcomed everyone on the platform including the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and representatives from the provinces. The Committee was convening to consider a petition.

The agenda for the day was considered and adopted.

Deputy Minister’s remarks 

Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, said a petition had been received regarding pit latrines in the three provinces -- KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The Department had received that petition without retaliating, because they were accountable to the citizens of South Africa, including the colleagues in the meeting today. That was why all the proceedings of Parliament were as transparent as possible, so that everyone could have the information. If one could be in Cabinet meetings, when other Ministers were crying about their few resources, one would believe that the scarce resources were shared mostly by the Department of Education, because Education and Health took almost one quarter of the budget of government. She acknowledged that the needs, demands and priorities far exceeded government's limited resources. It was not a matter of political will or unwillingness, but just that resources were extremely limited. Most people thought that the DBE was consuming a big chunk of the finances of government; it should be borne in mind that the Department, in general, was labour-intensive, so a big proportion of the budget went to salaries. Many other things had to be done by the Department, including infrastructure.

The Department had therefore seen that there was a challenge in other provinces, where their resources may not be sufficient to provide the necessary infrastructure. The President had said they should help the Department in 2018, and they had helped. The DBE had identified all the unsafe sanitation structures in the country, and resources were gathered from all nine provinces, including the private sector, which did not necessarily contribute cash but were rather sent to go build, which they had done and were still doing.

There was a report of the programme which required one to go to schools and follow the supply chain processes of government. Failing to do that would lead to irregular expenditure. That was why one must do all the designs, the planning and the appointment of professional service providers (PSPs). They, in turn, appoint the contractors. The work had begun, and was almost 80% completed. What remained were a very few projects that would be concluded by the end of March. That did not mean that provinces were not continuing to implement what had not been captured on the number of schools that were identified in 2018.

Infrastructure issues were like a moving target. When one builds a house, it is not entirely done immediately. Every two to five years, one had to address structural defects and renovations. That was the work being done in infrastructure, and was why there was a condition that 60% of the infrastructure grant must go to maintenance. If the project was left behind, it would deteriorate because people were there every day.

Nguvu Collective petition

Ms Noxolo Mfocwa said she works with an organisation known as the Nguvu Collective. Basically, they were a movement accelerator for any ordinary citizen who would like to use tools of digital campaigning to get their issue on their agenda and get the attention of involved decision-makers. Mr Yongama Zigebe was one of the Nguvu Collective change leaders they worked with. The organisation had supported him since he started his petition on the change platform and helped him to push it to the point at which it was being given the necessary attention. Mr Zigebe would make the presentation, and she would be available if there were any further questions. 

Mr Zigebe said that he was a human rights activist and had entered politics because he wanted to see the human rights of our people being recognised and protected. He had visited his younger cousin's rural school in the Eastern Cape and had been appalled by what he saw. Education had become life-threatening for learners in South African rural schools. Beyond that, it had become a human rights violation. It was saddening to see, almost 30 years into democracy, children and teachers relieving themselves in death traps that were pit latrines -- or even worse, resorting to open defecation.

Eradication of these horrendous death traps would be in line with the Chapter Two Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution. The Bill of Rights was a cornerstone of democracy. It enshrined the rights of all people in the country and affirmed the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights -- a right to life, a right to dignity, to safety, to health, a right to proper sanitation and a conducive environment to education.

The Polokwane High Court's ruling on 17 September 2021 called for eradicating pit latrines across South Africa, not just in Limpopo. Judge Gerrit Muller said that replacing pit latrines was a national emergency and must be treated accordingly. He also expressed his disappointment at the lack of urgency to deal with this issue. Regardless of this, the Department of Basic Education still dragged its feet at the expense of human life. 

Mr Zigebe said he had started this petition through the platform to safeguard and promote the rights and wellbeing of children in rural schools who would normally not have a voice and no one to stand up for them. With more than 5 000 people having signed already, the organisation firmly believed that the people had spoken in numbers and that the clarion call that had been made years ago should be listened to by government. It had been nine years since little Michael Komape, and five years since Lumka Mkhethwa , had died a horrific death after falling into a pit latrine toilet and drowned in a public school in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, respectively, yet the DBE had moved at a devastatingly slow pace in eradicating pit latrine toilets in public schools, infringing heavily on the right to life, human dignity and basic education. In March 2023, everyone watched in horror as yet another four-year-old girl was found dead in a school pit toilet in the Eastern Cape province.

The organisation was here to find out what the Department of Education had done since. In 2018, President Ramaphosa and the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, made a rosy presentation about how millions of rands had been raised, and claimed to be paying a dividend of democracy through education infrastructure. The question then was, what had happened to the money? Why were they still discussing the eradication of pit latrines? Since 2018, how many pit latrines has the Department of Basic Education demolished and replaced with proper toilets?

On 28 February 2023, the Dispatch newspaper in East London reported that the Eastern Cape had forfeited R100 million of education infrastructure grants meant for public school infrastructure. The money had simply not been spent by the end of the financial year, while the state of school infrastructure in the Eastern Cape was devastating. Of the over 5 000 schools in the Eastern Cape, more than 1 000 still used pit latrine toilets, so the question again was why the money was not spent on eradicating these pit latrines.

The Department had committed to eradicating pit latrines toilets in public schools by 2025, and this was not the first time they were hearing this. This was another deadline by the Department. In March 2023, the Minister of Basic Education stated that the DBE had identified 3 398 schools countrywide with pit latrine toilets. For the 2025 commitment, there were hardly 15 months left. More than 3 000 schools still had illegal pit latrines that needed to be demolished and replaced. It was a human rights violation. It was November 2023, and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Nguvu Collective wished to know what progress had been made since March 2023. They demand quarterly progress reports from each affected province in the lead-up to the 2025 deadline, and that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) should monitor this progress and report to the general public of South Africa.

All pit latrines in public schools nationwide should be eradicated by at least November 2024. That was the demand of the people who had signed the petition, who represented the many other unheard voices that could not sign the petition.

See petition attached

DBE's response 

Mr Granville Whittle, Acting Director-General, DBE, invited Ms Tsholofelo Diale, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Infrastructure, to lead the Department’s presentation in response.

Ms Diale said the presentation would provide an introduction, the problem statement, the background and context overview of both the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme and the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), the budget and expenditure that was requested, the contribution by other donors and partners, as well as the monitoring that was being done.

The Department was responsible for the planning and implementation of the ASIDI, the purpose of which was to eradicate specific backlogs. They were also responsible for SAFE, the purpose of which was to eradicate basic pit toilets. Both programmes were funded through the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG), and it would be seen later how this grant had been provided over the years. In addition to this, the Department had the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), which was implemented by its sister departments in the different provinces. 

She said that it was important to note that basic pit toilets were inappropriate, but ventilated, improved pit (VIP) toilets were appropriate, especially in areas that did have water, because it would be irresponsible to provide waterborne sanitation when there was no water -- that was far more a health hazard than not having toilets at all.

The Department endeavours to ensure that all schools meet minimum standards for infrastructure and was committed to progressively upgrading each school's infrastructure to meet optimum standards. As the Deputy Minister (DM) had indicated, resources were limited, so the upgrading had been done gradually. In addition, in the National Planning Commission's national development plan (NDP) in November 2011, there was a statement that the Department had made which brought to life the ASIDI programme. In that programme, school infrastructure backlogs had been considerably reduced over the past ten years.

The Department accepted that many school environments were still not conducive to learning. It had committed itself to eradicating 496 inappropriate structures, to providing basic water to 1 257 schools, providing basic sanitation to 868 schools, and providing electricity to 878 schools. This statement was made in 2012, and the Department committed itself to finding ways to deliver infrastructure and services more efficiently and cost effectively, and to improve the quality of information used for planning.

The SAFE programme had then come along and was intended to provide appropriate sanitation to schools that depended solely on basic pit latrines. In 2011, initially, 701 schools on the ASIDI list had no sanitation. In 2018, there were 3 898 schools on the SAFE programme. The budget provided to the DBE since 2011 has been R26.3 billion. To date, the Department has spent R20 billion, and counting. In terms of the context, there were constraints and remedial measures being put in place by the Department. The specific constraints and their remedial measures were outlined in the presentation.

Ms Diale said that the DBE had increased its capacity over the years because it saw learning and teaching as a very important and intrinsic issue. Through the SAFE programme, a total of 2 950 schools had been provided with appropriate sanitation, and the Department was left with 430 projects to complete by the end of the current financial year. The baseline number was for the ASIDI programme had been 701, but the current number that had to be provided with appropriate sanitation had increased to 1 087. All of those 1 087 schools have since been provided with sanitation.

Some non-sewer sanitation technologies were beginning to be implemented in schools because of this programme, in partnership with the Water Research Commission, so that in the far-flung areas of the country where there was no water, they could experience flushing toilets. The DBE recognised that it did not have enough internal capacity to ensure delivery of the mandate of infrastructure, and therefore had to in-source some of this capacity. The programme support unit was helping at the portfolio management level, and the DBE had appointed implementing agents. The DBE frequently met with the implementing agents and donors to ensure they were not providing sub-standard sanitation. 

She spoke about the salient points of focus in the meetings. One was clearing the audit findings and matters of emphasis, because implementing some of these projects attracted some of those findings, so on a continuous basis, the DBE tries to see where it could do better. Another point was the timely allocation of projects to implementing agents so that there were no delays in the implementation and monitoring of the implementation of the work plans, with targets and milestones. The DBE also discusses completed projects which should be transferred to the provinces. Another point was monitoring expenditure against the allocated budgets and moving projects from design planning to tender until they were completed. They also monitored the delivery of infrastructure projects through EIG analysis of the cost of delivery of these infrastructure projects, dealing with all matters that were also outstanding and causing delays, so that the Department could unblock where there were any blockages. The pertinent issue of job opportunities was also discussed in the meetings.

The impact of monitoring has resulted in an improvement in service delivery. The Department has been able to improve its audit profile from qualified over the years, to unqualified on its audit opinion. Implementing agents had been made to sign work plans with clear targets and milestones which were binding contextually. Delivery of projects had been accelerated towards meeting the practical completion dates that had been scheduled in terms of the annual performance plan (APP) targets, and had even exceeded some of those due to this monitoring. The Department had ensured that poor quality was uncovered, and responsible contractors, project managers, professional service providers and implementing agents were developing accordingly.  They also unblocked where there were any blockages. By doing this monitoring, implementing agents, project managers and PSP's contractors had also been held liable when there was failure to meet their contractual obligations. Delays in the payment of contractors, PSPs and contractors have also been addressed. 

Instances where communities were rejecting area-based teams (ABTs) to build schools, and delays caused by business forums, had also been dealt with. Some of the inappropriate schools that had been provided with appropriate facilities just rejected the DBE eradication of some of those old, unsafe structures, but they were persuaded and made to understand that the toilets were death traps for them and their children. There was involvement of all of the role players -- school principals, school governing bodies (SGBs), district and provincial officials and local government councillors -- in the value chain of monitoring, and in the delivery of the Department's projects.

She recommended that the Committee note the progress that had been made in terms of infrastructure delivery. 

See attached for full presentation


The Chairperson spoke on behalf of Mr B Madlingozi (EFF) because he had flu and could not speak. Mr Badlingozi asked when the Department would bring back the dignity of a black child in South Africa. It had been close to 30 years of black mothers and fathers ruling and in charge of South Africa. What were the real reasons that money did not do what it was supposed to be doing? What were the consequences for those who had abused those funds? What were the plans in place for the trauma that these children had witnessed through the death of their peers in the pit latrines?

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said the sensitive issue of pit latrines was a major concern not only to those who had brought about the petition, but to everyone. Subject to correction by both DBE and the Portfolio Committee, there were 3 200 South African schools which had recorded a huge challenge, as they had been using pit latrines as their only source of ablution facilities. That number had declined by more than 16%. This indicated that the Department was at work. It was also important to note that donors had made a significant contribution at up to 139 schools. He asked what actions had been taken against implementing agents responsible for any delay in the projects. What kind of incentives, such as tax incentives, could be introduced to close the infrastructure gaps? Were any other innovative solutions being explored to improve sanitation in the schools? This question should not be addressed only by the Department, but the Portfolio Committee should also develop constructive innovations.

He then directed questions to the provincial representatives. How did the provinces practically address the problem of business forums that kept on disrupting projects, and what kind of concessions were being reached under those circumstances? Secondly, what actions were the provincial departments taking on the agents involved in delayed projects? To what extent did the level of planning for the district development model (DDM) ensure that schools were reticulated to provide sanitation?

Ms D van der Walt (DA) said that the DA had done a lot of oversight visits across the country on their own to see the pit toilet situation. Although Mr Moroatshehla had said that they were negative, if one lost a child in a pit toilet, it was very undignified, very unnecessary, and it stayed with one for life. It also had a psychological impact on other learners and the teachers and staff at schools who had to deal with it -- and some politicians and officials as well. So this should not just be a negative thing. Nobody should go to a toilet to die, but to relieve oneself in a dignified manner.

She said that the presentation had been insightful. She had recently done a tour of toilets in Limpopo. There had been some improvement in the years since the unfortunate happening with Michael Komape. It was just sad that that case had to happen before the whole country took notice of the pit toilets situation. The provincial department had indeed changed and progressed to the VIP system, for which the DA was grateful. Maintenance and the provision of proper cleaning material remained an issue, but there was progress.

She said that the packaging of the payments to contractors and implementing agents was concerning, because a tender was supposed to be given for what had been presented, and not necessarily to the people with the most experience building big projects. At the local government level, who signed off on payments, and were inspections of buildings done by qualified people? For example, the roof had collapsed at Thusanang School for special needs children in Bela-Bela, Limpopo. It was no secret that before the collapse of the roof, it was not even straight, and it was going to collapse sometime. So, who had inspected this beforehand? The builders had been paid out and children had been allowed into these buildings.

She also asked what the DBE meant when they said they dealt with the implementing agents accordingly. Were they just being given a warning, or were they being blacklisted? 

She said there was an instance where she had attended a major sporting event at a school in Mpumalanga, and she had had to rent mobile toilets for the event because the toilets were horrific. The whole sanitation issue was a problem. Even if progress was being made in numbers, no maintenance was being done.

She disagreed with what the DM had said about having to maintain a house every two to five years. If a house was built properly, it could stay in a proper condition for a very long time. 

Mr N Kwankwa (UDM) wished that the private sector could contribute a fraction of the amount of money that it contributed to propping up the Springboks, because that would ensure the eradication of more than half of the backlogs on pit latrines. He also acknowledged the limited progress made by the Department, but Mr Zigebe’s presentation had focused on quite a few specific issues. One of them was budget allocations which were made by the Finance Department, and quite often, what happened for various reasons, there were requests for rollovers and some of the money was returned to the fiscus. The question that was pertinent was how this could be prevented from happening after many years of doing the same thing. What lessons had been learned and how had things been done differently to ensure that large amounts of money were not returned? The second issue had to do with deadlines. Rural provinces have made very little progress over the last 30 years, and the action programme should be focusing on them.

He agreed with Ms Van der Walt that they were not choosing the right people for the job, but did not quite agree with the suggestion that people must be blacklisted. This was because if one considered the history of this country, it would naturally largely mean that the people assumed to have acquired the level of experience and knowledge needed to be able to build and produce any item to the quality level required would naturally be white. What needed to happen, therefore, was that once weaknesses had been identified, people must be allowed a window period of some kind for them to improve in the areas of concern, but also to have punitive measures where people were paid for bad work. Some part of what they had been paid for must come back to the fiscus. It was a bit complex because, on the one hand, one must help people to actually build enough capacity to be able to deliver what was required without necessarily blacklisting them, because they had to find a way of building their capacity, and could not be expected to have the same experience as someone who had built toilets for 30 years, when they had actually built toilets or pit latrines, for example, for the past five years. It was the developmental state’s responsibility to help people to capacitate themselves. 

The other issue was that in helping capacitate people, there must be instruments and people and principles of accountability built into the system. This also meant that new targets should be developed which were informed by past experience, and aimed to improve whatever had gone wrong. People who had been able to deliver quality outputs or products must be rewarded, but it must not be due to political links or connections that people were able to get government work. He said pit latrines built out of necessity in certain villages that had access to water should be classified differently from run-of-the-mill pit latrines. This was because people may erroneously regard the DBE as not having made enough progress in addressing the issue, when in fact they had.

Ms M van Zyl (DA) said that she had a couple of things to say about what the Minister said about limited resources. In the Budget Speech last week, Finance Minister Godongwana mentioned that there would be a R57 million cut in basic education infrastructure, so where would the Department cut its funds to align with his announcement? She added that she thought the limited resources were linked to bad ANC policies and the current economic state of South Africa.

Referring to the presentation, she said good quality education was obviously the cornerstone of economic development in any country. Without good quality education, there was little prospect for the youth to get anywhere in life. As Ms Van der Walt had mentioned already, the DA had visited schools in KZN, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. They had also visited Mpumalanga and North West, where pit toilets still existed. Even though Ms Diale had described the different categories of pit toilets, it was only good on paper. The actual reality with the VIP toilets was that even though they may provide dry solutions, it remained a pit toilet, and without the necessary chemicals and remained a health risk to children and educators. Along with maintenance went the maintenance of these dry units. Schools could not afford chemicals, and the Department was not sending them, so the toilets became full. The municipalities did come to suck the sewage out, so they were in fact still only a pit.

As was correctly mentioned by the petitioners, the Department had committed to eradicating pit toilets by 2025. However, 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. 7 610 had VIP toilets and 5 836 schools had unreliable water supply, so it needed much more than just fixing the pit toilets. There was also a lack of infrastructure and services to schools with goalposts that kept moving, and the last assessment identifying pit toilets was done in 2018. So, unlike what the Deputy Minister had said at the start, unless the Minister exhibited the political will to ensure the Department implemented the necessary measures to meet her own objectives, the learners would continue to suffer in inadequate and dangerous pit latrine schools.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) said he was disappointed by DBE and the way some of these projects were handled. He cited an example of a contractor in the south of KwaZulu-Natal. They were supposed to build pit latrines in three schools. He had reported a problem to the DG in July, and the DG said it would be attended to immediately. The problem was that the implementing agent did not pay the contractor. The implementing agent was the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), and the contractor was DZWA Development Projects. The total owed to the contractor was over R1 million. It did not make sense why this problem had not been resolved after so many months, especially considering how positive the presentation from the Department had been. He insisted that he needed feedback on this. 

Ms Van Zyl asked questions on behalf of Mr B Nodada (DA), because he was struggling with connectivity. He wanted to know how many schools still had toilets not identified for upgrading through the SAFE programme. Of the 2 950 schools that had been completed, how many were in use? When the DA did oversight earlier this year, they came across schools with new toilets that were not in use because they had not been properly handed over. How many schools for learners with special needs still had pit toilets? Were these included in the SAFE programme? Given the history of missed deadlines, how confident was the Department of achieving its new deadlines?

Regarding the ASIDI, how many of the completed projects were in use? For both SAFE and ASIDI projects, what was the Department's follow-up protocol? How often did they visit or engage with the schools to find out whether the projects were being maintained and used? Had the Department taken note of the Western Cape's success with its Rapid School build programme? Had it engaged the Western Cape for best practices that might help the other provinces?

The Chairperson said that one must appreciate the fact that they had raised issues maturely and irrespective of the challenges that were there. Everyone could recall the presentation from the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC), which dealt with infrastructure issues. They also presented on the challenges that were there. 

She then invited the provincial Members of Executive Councils (MECs) to speak on the issues of SAFE and ASIDI, and the progress they had made as provinces. She also asked them to speak about their projections, and said she was raising this because there had been an issue raised by the petitioners about the court judgments. 

She asked the petitioners if there were any engagements that they had made with the provinces, and, if they had, what the response had been. She asked the Department to what extent local councillors were supportive, and what their role and capacity was to deal with the issues of infrastructure. The presentation had alluded to 384 targets in the APP, and the DBE had completed 249. What was the plan to complete the outstanding ones, and the 430 projects in the ASIDI that were still outstanding? When would they be completed? Lastly, what had the impact of monitoring been? When the Committee was informed that the project managers had failed to meet their contractual obligations, what consequence management was in place?

MECs' comments 

Mr Fundile Gade, Eastern Cape MEC for Education, said that this discussion should be approached from an angle of availing the detailed report of the province. It was safe to say that from the initial 1 500-plus that the province had identified as part of the ongoing eradication of pit latrines, 1 131 schools had been dealt with since they were identified in 2019. The concept itself of the eradication of pit latrines in a country that had no bulk infrastructure system in villages, was a bit awkward and could be misleading in one way or another precisely because of how the interventions had been structured. He was happy that they had given consideration to this aspect in the SAFE programme. In terms of the SAFE programme, which had been sponsored via the declaration by the Minister, and the sanitation programme, which was a key programme, of the 1 013 schools under the SAFE programme, 433 had been dealt with and 44 were currently underway via the Mvula Trust.

He said the schooling system in the province was being restructured. From the 1 500-plus mentioned earlier, 547 schools had been taken out of the SAFE programme because of rationalisation, alignment and mergers. This was because the problem with the province was not just about infrastructure, but was about a scattered schooling system which had no potential to provide a quality education system, and therefore needed to be structured in a manner that was going to respond directly to the crisis that the nation in general was confronted with. The 547 schools were a product of a consolidated schooling system, which minimised the chances of not meeting the targets outlined by the sector plan.

He assured the Committee that with the resources they currently had and the help of the DBE through the infrastructure grant, they would be able to deal with the backlog on the pit latrines by 2024, or early in 2025. However, the question still arose as to whether the Department, in its quest to deal with the infrastructure backlog from pit latrines, would be able to also provide a service outside of the structured plan, because some villages were not in a position to implement bulk infrastructure.

Lastly, the issue of rollovers was a challenging one. The HOD had unbundled the skewed infrastructure in the meetings that he had on Friday mornings, just to check and balance the pace, and to meet the demand and supply required. The issue of the dignity of the learners at any given time could not be left unattended.

He lastly noted that the province had learned its lessons because of the localisation concept. This could create a problem where one would have to abandon projects that were currently underway based on the capacity of the contractors, implementing agents’ reckless management, and monitoring some of the work that had been done. 

Ms Mbali Frazer, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education, said it was deeply regrettable that learners and educators were subjected to such facilities. KZN had made a lot of progress. They were 95% done, and would be complete by March 2024. They were very committed to ensuring that they monitored the progress so that all those still outstanding were covered. 

Ms Mavhungu Lerule-Ramakhanya, Limpopo MEC for Education, said that they had looked at the programmes they needed to implement, especially the backlog on pit latrines, and had adopted them. Her office had specifically adopted 2023 as a year of infrastructure, in which they were focusing on fast-tracking the implementation of all infrastructure projects. However, there was an issue of how the programme was addressed in terms of those who wanted to participate economically. Business forums were raising a 30% issue. The approach with infrastructure projects was that when they were handed over, it was a societal issue -- a programme that all stakeholders were involved in, especially the beneficiaries of that project -- and their participation could assist in other instances where the province could break the ground and see projects being implemented. There was also an issue in terms of incentives. At this level, she was taking counsel from the petitioners and the Committee itself. The province reported on the programmes that were done, and legislation was submitted through the annual plans and the annual reports. The province could also try to intensify the reports so that people were always up to speed. 

She said that Limpopo had the most schools that were built by their own communities. It was important to take stock of what had been achieved. In communities without infrastructure for water supply, that was where the VIP latrines became the most practical, because they were ventilated. The Portfolio Committee should not limit itself to the waterborne method. There may be other methods that could be implemented. 

Department response 

Ms Diale said that the DBSA had indicated what they were doing to address the matter, so they would have a response for Mr Ngcobo. She said penalties were imposed where projects were not finished on time, and they had imposed penalties on contractors and recovered money from implementing agents in some cases. There had also been terminations, which was unfortunate in a development state. However, developmental programmes were being put in place to assist contractors. The penalties varied, depending on what had been stated in the contract. In KZN, money had been recovered from implementing agents.

Then, there was a question about what kind of incentives could be introduced, such as tax breaks. There were many other solutions to provide appropriate sanitation. Some of these innovations were used throughout the world in construction industries, and there must be advocacy for the people to accept these innovations. 

The Department acknowledged that some of its contractors needed training to ensure that they installed the technology properly. The Department had signed an MoU with the Water Research Commission to ensure that this technology was brought to schools in areas with no water at all, but this also came with the burden of maintenance. 

She said the provinces would address the challenge of business forums. The DG was constantly addressing this matter. The PEDs would also refer to the action that had been taken. Regarding the basic pits, she had already indicated that people should not continue to use them, except for VIPs, which were recognised as an appropriate solution. The problem, however, was the maintenance, so the Department must partner with local municipalities to help empty these toilets.

On the issue of implementing agents lacking experience and signing off on substandard work, there were principal agents who signed off after quantity surveyors had done their evaluations. Punitive measures included cancelling contracts, or even reporting principal agents that were signing off on sub-standard work to professional bodies. She gave an assurance that there were suitably qualified colleagues who were going to the sites and making sure that the quality of work out there was according to what it should be.

Addressing Mr Kwankwa’s question about budget allocations, she said the Department was continuously building its capacity to plan on time to avoid the return of funds to the fiscus. The implementing agents were putting training processes in place, and the Department was in constant communication with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) to make sure that they trained the contractors to avoid situations where they had to be blacklisted. 

Ms Diale said it was important to understand the distinction between the VIPs and pit latrines -- where one was appropriate, while the other was not. 

Regarding limited resources and political will, the Department needed to be in constant communication with municipalities to ensure that these toilets were well maintained.

Lastly, she said that some schools still refused to allow the Department to demolish the old pit latrines. The Department continued to engage with them and show them the dangers of those toilets. Local councillors were also helping in that regard. 

Mr Elias Mafoko, Chief Director: Infrastructure, DBE, said the main thing that needed to be emphasised was that provinces were funding the infrastructure from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). The grant was largely governed through the grant framework stipulating that 60% of the budget allocated to provinces must be allocated to maintenance. However, this did not include the allocation that went directly to schools for day-to-day maintenance. Schools also received funding from their norms and standards for school funding to do day-to-day maintenance, including maintaining sanitation facilities and ablution. Therefore, one of the tasks that provinces must do is to advise SGBs about the proper utilisation of their allocation for maintenance, and to issue guidelines to schools and districts to define the roles and responsibilities related to maintenance. The Ten-point Plan, which was a plan that was taken through the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) to introduce measures to improve the provision of infrastructure, included maintenance and the development of framework contracts. In some instances, they were referred to as temporary contracts for smaller-scale projects, to facilitate a rapid turnaround. Those framework contracts would assist in instances where there was a need to quickly appoint a contractor to attend to issues like maintenance of ablution facilities.

Dr Nkosinathi Ngcobo, Head of Department, KZN, began by clarifying that in terms of the issue of unpaid contractors in KZN, the DBSA had paid its main contractor. It was the contractor who had not paid the sub-contractors under him. The DBSA had therefore commenced a process of terminating the main contractor through their legal services. The province had urged the DBSA to fast-track the process of replacement and to disperse the money that was still with them directly to sub-contractors. The sub-contractors must be paid by the end of November, and this would be re-emphasised in the upcoming meeting with the DBSA. In the meantime, the province had provided interim ablution facilities in the schools so that while the main contractor and the DBSA's issues were being dealt with, learners did have ablution facilities. This was a situation that happened sometimes in the construction field, where the main contractor duly awarded a contract, and sometimes failed to deliver according to specifications, and failed to even pay sub-contractors and employees. The frustration of the sub-contractors would, of course, be directed to the DBE. 

KZN had seen a decrease in disruptions by business forums. Although there were sporadic incidents here and there where they would disrupt, the strategy was to engage them as early as the planning and conception stage to avoid disruptions during construction, and ongoing engagements were also maintained with them. These engagements were made together with the local leadership where the school toilets were being built, or where the project was being undertaken. In KZN, the model was working quite well. They worked in cooperation with other sister departments and municipalities, as the DDM model prescribed, and took part in the integrated planning and the development of one plan, one budget and one district. Wherever there were problems with expenditure, the funds were returned to National Treasury. Over the past five to six years, KZN has never underspent on the infrastructure budget. Instead, they used money that had not been spent elsewhere almost every year. 

Mr N Malatji, Head of Department, Limpopo, said that the Department had received a judgement in September 2021 requiring them to file a plan on 17 December indicating how they would eradicate pit latrines in schools. They had been requested to do assessments at schools and plan for all the schools in the province. The plan that was submitted to the courts was based on three priorities. The first priority was inappropriate sanitation. This dealt with schools that had no existing appropriate toilets. A full set of appropriate toilets was required, and there was also a need to demolish inappropriate structures. The second priority was inadequate sanitation. There were some appropriate toilets in these schools, but the number was not compliant. The third priority was the refurbishment of appropriate toilets. Of the 3 761 schools in the province, 58 had to count twice because of the differences in the norms between primary and secondary schools, and 47 were affected by the rationalisation process. 566 schools were identified under priority one, 1 566 under priority two, and 1 524 under priority three. The budget at the time was R618 million for priority one, R3.7 billion for priority two, and R915 million for priority three. This plan was attended to through the EIG allocated to the province and the SIBG through the SAFE and ASIDI programmes. Referring to the progress report, he said the objective was to have the schools currently under construction completed by the end of December. 

He agreed with KZN HOD that the best way to deal with business forums was by engaging them through local leaders and ensuring that projects were open to local participation, because that was the main issue. Opening the projects for local participation in terms of unskilled labour and opportunities for suppliers went a long way towards in minimising tensions that would normally be there.

Further discussion

Ms Van Zyl said she had questions for all three MECs, based on their input. She asked the Eastern Cape how many schools had pit toilets in the province. Were there more schools with pit toilets that were not part of any eradication programme yet? How many schools’ projects had been handed over and were in use? How often did the Department conduct oversight after handover to check on use and maintenance? What were the reasons for cancelled projects? How many of the upgraded projects consisted of VIP toilets? What were the reasons that these toilets were chosen? The Eastern Cape had had to return R100 million due to the underspending of infrastructure grants. Why had the province failed to spend that money? 

Ms Van Zyl said she had visited Mntwana JSS in Qwahu (sp) village in Mthatha, in the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape. The children there relieved themselves outside because the zinc toilets built by the school had huge seats, and they were now full. The Department of Education had never built toilets in the school -- the toilets that were there were a donation anyway. These were now full of faeces, and the children and teachers got infections. This school was not part of the SAFE programme or even budgeted to be built by the Eastern Cape Education Department.

The second school was the Cwecwe (sp) JSS, which was built in 1970. The pit toilets were horrific, dangerous and hygienic. The school had not been prioritised to build any toilets. Then, at Mount Frere SPS, the pit toilets were built in 1993 and are still in use today. Sadly, the school had also not been earmarked by government's SAFE or ASIDI programmes to eradicate these pit toilets. There was also the Nomkholokotho SPS, with horrific open-air pit toilets that did not have any purpose, but they had also not been decommissioned.

She asked Ms Diale if any reasons were given by school principals who did not want pit toilets to be decommissioned.

Moving on to Limpopo, of the 481 completed projects mentioned, how many had been handed over and were in use? How often did the Department do oversight to ensure maintenance and use of the projects? How often did the Department do oversight on in-progress school projects? How many of these new projects consisted of VIP toilets, and what was the reason for installing those VIP toilets? Nkota Secondary School had 209 children. It was built in 1998, and it had four pit toilets for boys, four pit toilets for girls, and two each for 18 staff members. The Department had never maintained these toilets. The school had a reliable water supply through a strong borehole, and the community had managed to build two flush toilets for each gender for use of teachers. There were some 'enviroloos' that the school had obtained through a National Lottery donation, but the children at this school still used the old pit toilets. 

Were the 3 898 schools mentioned just in KZN regarding KZN, or did they include EC and Limpopo? Were the 1 377 schools the only ones that had pit toilets, or were there more schools with pit toilets and had these 1 377 schools been identified to be part of the specific projects? If more schools in KZN had pit toilets that did not form part of this project, how many were there and when would those pit toilets be eradicated? Regarding the 1 263 schools in the completed handover phase, how many were currently in use? How many of these projects were VIPs, and were a replacement for pit toilets? How many sanitation projects in the completed handover phase were currently in use? When would the sanitation and bowl projects under construction be completed? Once all these projects had been completed, how many schools in KZN would still have pit toilets, inadequate sanitation and unsafe drinking water? Were any of these projects at schools affected by the floods, and how were they affected?

She referred to the Prospect Farm School in iLembe District in KZN. There were 390 children at the school. It was built in the 1950s, and no proper safe sanitation had been provided to the school by the Department. The main challenge here obviously remained water. A borehole existed but had been broken for quite some time. The Department had promised it would be fixed, but nothing had been done. There were 14 locked flush toilets for staff and learners, and learners and staff were now forced to use only two pit toilets. This was very concerning.  

Lastly, there were about 900 children at the Matamzana High School in the King Cetshwayo district. Although there was a water source at the school, the Department had opted for the building of VIPs. The staff component of 53 used four VIP toilets, and children made use of 32. According to the school, they were not allowed to use these toilets, as they had not been officially handed over by the Department, so six portaloos stood on the grounds, and this was the Department’s solution for nearly 900 children. With that being said, the children go and relieve themselves in the fields. 

Mr Moroatshehla said that questions regarding specific figures should rather be written down and submitted to the Portfolio Committee, because the Department could not conjure up numbers instantly. The Committee would then forward the questions to the relevant departments. Questions in the meeting should be directed to the petitioners, but the petitioners should respond first to their impressions.

Petitioners’ responses

Ms Mfocwa said they had come to the meeting to speak about something specific related to the ASIDI and SAFE, and the things they were supposed to do. They were speaking about eradicating pit latrines, but the information and numbers they were getting did not clearly indicate where things were. They wanted to know how close to their goal, because so many deadlines had been missed. They were very wary of moving without knowing the actual numbers. She asked the Department to be more specific in terms of the pit latrines, because this was the focus of the meeting.

Another issue that kept coming up was that of facilities that had been completed and not officially handed over, so schools were unable to use them. What was the Department's official position on that? 

Mr Zigebe said it was frustrating that they were still dealing with issues that had always been there. There had been multiple deadlines, which had left South African citizens disgruntled and out of patience. Monitoring and evaluation was also a huge problem in the Department. Communities were not adequately addressed, which led to strikes which led to halts in construction. There were also discrepancies in the numbers presented by the Department and the numbers presented by the Minister. Then there was the issue of dignity. 

This discussion highlighted the urgent need for practical solutions when addressing the challenges posed by pit latrines: death, indignity and so on. To illustrate the practicalities, replacing all the pit latrines with water bone sanitation was simply unfeasible in the short term, as this would require an additional one billion litres of water daily for flushing alone. This was currently an insurmountable obstacle in terms of water supply and treatment. As Committee Members, the Chairperson and the Department had said, there was a huge problem of water in South Africa. Considering the current condition of existing waste treatment plants, the South African private sector has sought to find the most practical and effective way to address the critical issues of safety, environmental impact and serviceability of these facilities.

To make a tangible difference, it was necessary first to acknowledge that an immediate conversion to water bone solutions was not practical in the short and medium term. A safer alternative to pit latrines had been developed and tested extensively by the private sector, and was ready for implementation in communities. The Department should really investigate this and continue expanding their partnerships with the private sector to implement this, if it had not yet been implemented in some of the places that they had spoken about. It was a cost-effective dry sanitation unit that addressed health and safety shortfalls, installation difficulties and safe testing problems with pit latrines, while ensuring that environmental and underground water contamination could not occur.

The waste containment unit had a 1 500 litre bladder, with a three to five-year guaranteed life cycle which could be removed without disabling the unit. The units were mobile, and no pits had to be dark, which reduced installation costs. The unit itself was shaped in an ellipse to maximise space utilisation and waste containment, using a rotating bowel to dispose of waste, which prevented contact with faecal matter. The unit used environmentally friendly products to treat waste, all of which addressed environmental concerns.

The need to eliminate pit latrines in South Africa was clear, given the multitude of risks they posed to the health, safety, education and environment of communities. While an immediate conversion to waterborne sanitation may not be practical due to water supply and treatment limitations, developing safer alternatives, such as the dry sanitation unit, offered promising possibilities. By prioritising the implementation of such practical and effective solutions, South Africa could significantly enhance the wellbeing and quality of life of its communities and its schools, making strides towards a future where pit latrines were replaced with safe, sustainable and healthier sanitation options for all its citizens and for all its children and its teachers in schools. 

Ms Mfocwa said that the petition had started around February, and there had been an unfortunate incident in the Eastern Cape in March. The petitioners had then felt the need to push it forward in the agenda, so they had written a letter to the provincial departments and legislatures. No one had responded, so they figured out another way to get it on the agenda. They had sent it through the Office of the Speaker, and asked the Speaker to please get it tabled at this Portfolio Committee so that it could take its place as the oversight in place of the non-responsive departments when the public reached out to them.

The Chairperson concluded by reiterating the concerns of the petitioners, and recommended that they get the necessary contact details from the Committee secretary so that they could deal with the Department directly. 

The meeting was adjourned. 


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