About a year ago the group addressed their first letter to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Limpopo Department of Education, requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns.

SECTION27 met with the DBE in November last year and they promised to provide the group with a plan to address sanitation facilities in 111 priority schools by the end of January this year.

The list has grown to 215 priority schools and SECTION27 have asked them for a list of the criteria they use to identify the priority schools, but have not yet received this.

The DBE has committed to follow up with a broader plan to address the problems with sanitation in the remaining 4 000 schools in the province.

SECTION27 attorney Nikki Stein recently returned to Limpopo to visit 19 schools and to monitor compliance with the DBE’s sanitation plan. ‘€œAt this stage, according to the plan, there should be materials delivered to all schools and construction should have started. They should be digging pits for the toilets and the boreholes,’€ Stein said.

However, implementation of the plan was only where it should be in one of the schools they visited. Four schools had done their site handover.

Stein said that while the contractors at most schools are significantly behind schedule in terms of implementing the plan, there has been progress in many of the schools.

‘€œThere seems to have been no consultation with service providers in setting deadlines, and as a result it is unlikely that the deadlines will be met. But it seems that there is progress. We need to monitor it very closely, though,’€ said Stein.

She confirmed that there has been progress in implementing the sanitation plan in all of the schools that are on the plan.

‘€œThere are a couple of schools we have seen in a really terrible condition that are not on the sanitation plan, though, and we are awaiting a list of criteria from the DBE used to identify “priority schools” so that we can assess whether they should be included on the list.

‘€œOne of these schools has two Port-o-Loos, one for teachers and one to be used by 167 learners. There are no pits, though, and no place for the waste to go. It therefore just seeps out of the bottom and leaves a terrible smell. The teachers and learners walk into the bushes to relieve themselves, and are exposed to baboons, poisonous snakes and other animals,’€ said Stein.

Stein said that at two of the schools the toilets have completely collapsed and the Department has taken no action. At one school, the collapsed structure has left the pits exposed. At another school, there are no more structures and learners relieve themselves over open holes in the middle of the playground.

‘€œWe chose (to focus on school) toilets because of its centrality to health, dignity and basic education: there are clear impacts on learner absenteeism, particularly among teenage girls who miss up to one week of school every month because they do not have proper facilities to manage their periods. So this falls squarely within our health and education mandate,’€ said Stein.

She added that the situation in Limpopo is also ‘€œreally desperate’€ and has been for many years.

Stein believes that the problems are different in rural and urban areas.

‘€œOne of the big problems in Limpopo is with water supply, and that affects the availability of hand washing facilities. In addition, the Limpopo

Department of Education built flush toilets in a few schools about five years ago, but because there is no water supply they cannot be used. This is a huge waste of resources as well. What we are asking for is ventilated improved pit toilets, which do not use water, and are a clean, hygienic and cheap option,’€ explained Stein.

She confirmed that the responsibility was primarily that of the DBE, but Public Works, Human Settlements and the municipalities shared it.

A Section 100 intervention in Limpopo has placed the responsibility on the DBE to address these challenges.

On 5 December 2011, government’€™s National Executive intervened in five provincial departments in Limpopo, including the Departments of Health and Education. This intervention was in terms of section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution, which empowers the National Executive to assume certain responsibilities of the provincial executive if it is found that the provincial government has failed to discharge its constitutional obligations. This section, once invoked, results in the assumption by the responsible member of the National Executive (in this case, the Minister of Basic Education) of all obligations of the provincial department (in this case, the Limpopo Department of Education). This means that obligations, which would ordinarily be carried out by the province, such as the provision of sanitation facilities or the procurement and delivery of textbooks, now fall under the direct responsibility of the Minister of Basic Education. ‘€“ Health-e News Service

SECTION27 pictures: http://www.section27.org.za/2013/02/20/the-shocking-state-of-infrastructure-in-limpopo-schools/#jp-carousel-5415

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