The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has ordered six education MECs to address the lack of sanitation and water, including the use of pit toilets at schools.

The SAHRC says having such deficiencies is not only a safety risk, but it contravenes basic human rights. The affected provinces are, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Free State. The action follows reports received from relevant education MECs in response to requests by the commission on the source of water and type of sanitation at schools in each province.

Speaking to SABC News, Commissioner Advocate Andre Gaum, said it should be a very concerning matter for pupils to be faced with these challenges even years into democracy.

“These pit latrines should be covered and replaced by some sort of acceptable sanitation. That is simply unacceptable that after years of democracy, that pupils are still faced with challenges of this sort, this problem should have been solved a long time ago,” says Gaum.

Michael Komape judgment

The parents of a Limpopo learner who died in a pit toilet want the Basic Education Department to abide by the Polokwane High Court judgment. The judgment compels the department to revise its plans towards completely eradicating pit toilets.

Michael Komape died in a school pit toilet at Chebeng village outside Polokwane seven years ago.

Michael’s parents, James and Rosina Komape, welcomed the verdict in favour of the family and rights organisation, Section 27.

In a ruling, Judge Gerrit Muller ordered the Limpopo Education Department to release a list of all schools that still use pit toilets within 90 days.

The department wouldn’t comment except to say that it has noted the judgment.

The Komapes say although Michael’s death remains painful seven years on, his death was not in vain.

“If Michael hadn’t passed away, the Department of Education couldn’t have been aware of the seriousness of building toilets for learners at schools after he fell in the pit toilet. They realised the importance of safe toilets at schools. There are a lot of schools that still have pit latrines, we hope that they will adhere to the judgment.”

Basic Education’s reaction to court’s judgment in Michael Komape’s death: Elijah Mhlanga