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Campaign highlights Limpopo’s school sanitation challenges

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Section 27 and Basic Education For All have embarked on a campaign to gather support for their court case against the Basic Education Minister over the death of six-year-old Michael Komape.

The grade one learner fell into a pit toilet that collapsed at Mahlodumela Primary School at Chebeng village outside Polokwane in Limpopo in 2014.

The trial has been set for three weeks and will start in the Polokwane High Court from Monday next week.

Komape has become the face of Limpopo’s school sanitation challenges.

His death highlighted the plight of thousands of learners, who are forced to relieve themselves in unhygienic and unsafe facilities; some even go into the bushes.

The situation is worse for learners in rural areas.

The Hashtag Justice4Michael campaign focuses on compelling the education department to fulfill its constitutional mandate to provide safer sanitation facilities.

Section 27 has been helping the Komape family following the tragedy on 20 January 2014. Now that they are set to go to trial, Section 27 is mobilising support for the family by highlighting the importance of the case.

It is conducting workshops at schools with poor sanitation in the Mopani, Vhembe, Capricorn and Sekhukhune areas. Solanga Milambo is a field researcher in the organisation.

“There are a number of schools that we have identified where the situation of their toilets is unacceptable, toilets are dilapidated and some learners are using buckets to help themselves. The department hasn’t yet done its duties in terms of making sure that all learners across the province have decent toilets and also water. So we are training SGB members so that they can understand what we mean by supporting this family.”

Milambo says they want the department to accept the responsibility that it had failed to provide the necessary sanitation resources for Mahlodumela Primary school and other affected schools in the province.

He says the school had applied for proper toilets two years before Michael fell into the pit toilet, but the application was rejected. The toilets were only built after his death.

“The department has got an obligation to make sure that they provide the basic and quality education for our learners. If the department should have provided Mahlodumela with toilets before 2014, Michael would have still been alive. The reason I’m saying this is because the school has written letters and informed the department through circuit to indicate that they need toilets and the department should have included Mahlodumela on their first plan when they released during 2012/13 where they have allocated 415 schools. They should have prevented the tragedy that took place,” Milambo explains.

Phagamang primary school outside Jane Furse in the Sekhukhune District is among the schools Section 27 has visited.

The school is located on a farm and caters for 348 children. Community leader William Makena says the school was built in 1996 and has six classrooms, three of which are mobile classrooms.

Makena says lack of proper toilets has been their biggest challenge over the years and learners are forced to use unsafe pit toilets. He says they have made numerous attempts to get help since 2014.

“We need proper toilets. We have a few plastic toilets that don’t even have seats. Learners sit on planks. I feel so much pain because these are our children. I don’t want to say too much about our government because they make empty promises during elections. After that they do nothing for us on the farms because they are living lavishly. They don’t even want to come and see our situation.”

Section 27 says there are other schools with similar problems include Tsogang Primary and Bolotswi High in the Mopani District, as well as Thorometsane Primary and Mareseleng High in Sekhukhune.

The organisation says it hopes the case will result in a positive outcome for the Komape family to get closure.

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