Department of Education spends close to R1 billion providing water tanks, rented toilets

The Department of Basic Education has spent about R800-million providing water and mobile toilets to schools across the country since the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic, laying bare the slow pace of government’s efforts to eradicate poor sanitation infrastructure at some schools.

This information is contained in the department’s response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s request to reveal COVID-19 expenditure that has attracted much attention in recent months due to allegations of corruption.

The department said it has spent a combined R180-million renting mobile toilets for a period of six months (from DBSA and The Mvula Trust) and a further R600-million on water tanks from Rand Water. Julia Chaskalson, communications officer at Section27, said before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were over 3 800 schools across the country that only had plain pit toilets on the premises.

“While we welcome the Department of Basic Education’s spending on sanitation infrastructure like mobile toilets and water tanks to address the new challenges brought by the Coronavirus, these interventions are expensive and fundamentally temporary solutions to long-term, historical problems,” Chaskalson said.

“Infrastructure conditions at South African public schools are directly responsible for the deaths of countless learners, like Michael Komape, Siyamthanda Mtunu and Lumka Mkethwa, all learners who were killed by inadequate and dangerous sanitation infrastructure. We need urgent action supported by adequate funding to address challenges with school sanitation infrastructure on a permanent basis.”

The department in 2013 published legally binding regulations, called the norms and standards for school infrastructure. These made it a law that e very school must have water, electricity, internet, working toilets, safe classrooms with a maximum of 40 learners, security, libraries, laboratories and sports facilities. The norms and standards regulations apply to all public schools.

Equal Education Co-head of Research Hopolang Selebalo said the supplementary budget, tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in June, did not provide additional funding to the basic education sector, opting to roll back key programmes to fund COVID-19 costs.

Selebalo said: “A net total of R1.7-billion has been cut from school infrastructure grants alone, and a further R4.4-billion has been reallocated from these grants to cover COVID-19 expenditure needs. It is astonishing that in a moment which has highlighted the painful consequences of government’s failure to provide schools with adequate infrastructure and basic services such as clean water and safe toilets, school infrastructure funding has been further reduced.”

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the department, said there were several programmes dealing with the eradication of pit toilets at public schools, adding that due to the urgency of the reopening of schools, the interim solution was based on the rental of mobile toilets. “The Eastern Cape identified 970 schools with a need for rented toilets. Similarly, Limpopo identified 453 schools with a need for rented toilets. A total of 2 677 mobile toilets have
been installed in Eastern Cape and 1 750 in Limpopo,” Mhlanga said.

“Due to the urgency of the matter, a minimum of two mobile toilets and a maximum of four mobile toilets were installed at each one of the identified schools. This initiative enabled all the identified schools to open and provinces confirmed that none of these schools was closed due to lack of sanitation. “The combined cost of these rentals is about R20-million a month, with an estimated cost to date of R50-million.”

He also said 3 335 schools in six provinces benefitted from the water tanks programme. In the Eastern Cape, tanks were installed at 765 schools, while 813 schools benefitted in KwaZulu-Natal and 71 schools in the Free State. In Limpopo, tanks were installed at 499 schools, 129 schools in Mpumalanga and 64 in North West.


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