Equal Education marches to Department of Education

Written by Thabo Molelekwa

Five years after pledges were made to address sanitation issues in Gauteng schools, still there are schools with more than 51 learners poor toilet, broken toilets, broken taps, toilet doors that don’t lock and schools with more than 400 children per cleaner.

These are the findings of Equal Education in their new report on school sanitation, presented to the Gauteng Education Department on Thursday – the fifth anniversary of the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

Equal Education (EE) members marched to  the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) to release their new school sanitation report: “Breaking the Cycle: Uncovering Persistent Sanitation Challenges in Gauteng Schools”.

Speaking to Health-e News, Kholwani Simelani of EE said the aim was “To claim our campaign victories, and demand proper infrastructure maintenance to address the broken toilets cycle in schools”.

He said the sanitation report focuses on the 50 worst schools in Gauteng, highlighting the infringement on learners’ rights to dignified sanitation.

“If the sanitation issue is addressed, then we are in a better position to teach learners about hygiene and cleanness within their environment and they can learn in a clean environment,” Simelani said.

EE Gauteng members began advocating for improved sanitation after a survey of 11 schools in Tembisa in 2013 revealed the deplorable state of the learner toilets. In September 2014, 2000 EE members marched to the offices of the GDE to demand decent sanitation.

According to EE, Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi responded at the time by promising to spend R15 million upgrading sanitation at all schools in Tembisa, and a further R150 million on sanitation in the province. The department promised to fix sanitation in the 50 worst-off schools in Gauteng.

In addition, allocations for school infrastructure and maintenance line items, which include expenditure on sanitation, shifted in response to EE’s campaign work. Between 2012/2013 and 2016/2017, the Gauteng education infrastructure budget grew by 95%.

But according to EE’s latest statement serious sanitation issues remain. The statement explains that for the full benefits of the budget plans to materialise, the GDE must ensure that infrastructure upgrades are of good quality, and are maintained once construction is complete.

EE conducted school visits at 38 of the 50 worst schools that received upgrades by the GDE last year.

“Our findings revealed that, just three years since they were upgraded, schools still faced serious challenges around the number of working toilets available to learners; the lack of privacy in school bathrooms due to broken locks; shoddy workmanship by contractors hired by the GDE and a lack of maintenance of sanitation facilities,” said EE in their report statement.

Some key findings of their report were that, of the 38 schools visited, only 19 shad an adequate number of learner toilets according to government’s own Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure law. And when considered only working toilets, the number of schools that met the Norms dropped to only seven.

More than half the schools – 20 of the 38 – had a ratio of more than 51 learners per working toilet and at six of the schools there were more than 400 learners per maintenance or cleaning staff member.

At 15 schools more than one third of the taps were broken and of 808 learner toilets inspected by EE, 561 toilets (69%) did not have locking doors. Nine of the schools had no bathrooms able to accommodate learners with physical disabilities.

The school visits revealed two key systemic challenges: poor quality of work carried out by contractors hired by the Gauteng government, and poor maintenance of sanitation facilities.

“Without a look at why sanitation facilities continue to deteriorate despite upgrades and renovations, schools and provincial education departments such as the GDE will remain caught in an unending cycle of sanitation upgrades,” EE claimed.

“As Equal Education Gauteng, this is our national campaign with an umbrella campaign called feminine hygiene,” said Simelani.


Steve Mabona, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Education, confirmed that they have received EE’s sanitation report and memorandum of demands and would attend to it.

About the author

Thabo Molelekwa

Thabo Molelekwa joined OurHealth citizen journalists project in 2013 and went on to become an intern reporter in 2015. Before joining Health-e News, Thabo was a member of the Treatment Action Campaign’s Vosloorus branch. He graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology with a diploma in Computer Systems and started his career at Discovery Health as a claims assessor. In 2016 he was named an International HIV Prevention Reporting Fellow with the International Centre for Journalists and was a finalist in the Discovery Health Journalism Awards competition in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Thabo also completed a feature writing course at the University of Cape Town in 2016. In 2017 he became a News reporter , he is currently managing the Citizen Journalism programme.You can follow him on @molelekwa98