The education department is taking its fight against a judgment forcing it to end the use of pit toilets in schools to the highest court in the land.
This emerged on the same day that President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a public-private initiative to provide safe toilets for nearly 4 000 mostly rural and township schools.
The irony was not lost on advocacy group Equal Education (EE), which staged a silent protest at the launch event in Pretoria yesterday while Ramaphosa was giving his speech, calling for justice for two young children whose death from drowning inside primitive latrines in rural schools sparked a national outcry over the lack of sanitation at public schools.
Civil society organisations campaigned for safer toilets in schools after five-year-old Michael Komape died in a pit latrine at his Limpopo school in 2014. Another five-year-old, Lumka Mkhethwa, died in a rural Eastern Cape pit toilet in March this year.
In court papers seen by The Citizen yesterday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga wants the Constitutional Court to overturn a ruling by the Bisho High Court in the Eastern Cape, holding the minister liable for section 29 (1) of the constitution which deals with the right to an education. The ruling set deadlines for the department to fix school infrastructure, including toilets.
In the application, Motshekga argues that the court “misdirected itself” by including the provision of school infrastructure, water, sanitation, electricity and roads in its reading of section 29(1) of the constitution.
She contends that these responsibilities lie with hers and various other departments and one department could not be held liable for these services.
EE condemned the move in a statement yesterday, accusing government of wasting state resources on fighting the matter in court rather than acting on pit latrines.
“Instead of immediately beginning to improve school infrastructure, Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is now wasting desperately needed state resources and time to appeal the judgment. They are joined in this farce by the nine provincial education MECs,” said the statement.
Last month, EE leaders wrote to Ramaphosa about the need to move forward in efforts to decisively address the ongoing backlog of dangerous and inadequate infrastructure in South Africa’s schools.
“We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that the DBE and the president have failed to acknowledge our efforts to engage them following the Bisho High Court’s judgment, choosing instead to continue this unnecessary court battle instead of focusing on the safety and education of South African children.”
Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni / The Citizen