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Teachers and learners in Zwelinzima Primary School in Mthatha are using this field as a toilet. Photos: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

At Zwelinzima Primary School in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, learners and teachers are forced to use an open field as a toilet.

The school has more than 200 learners from grade R to seven, ten teachers and three staff members.

There are old pit toilets but they are no longer safe to use.

School governing body chairperson Thulani Gana said they have been asking the Eastern Cape Department of Education to build them toilets for over six years.

Each time they are told a team will be sent to assess the situation.

Three years ago a single official came.

“He took pictures of the old toilets. He mentioned that he will forward the photos to another department. We waited for him to come back as he promised, but he never did,” said Gana.

The school was started by parents in the early 1990s who built a few mud rondavels. In 2014, an overseas organisation built flush toilets for the school, but these kept getting blocked. Gana suspects the toilets were badly plumbed.

“We then [in 2015] decided to build pit toilets while waiting for the department to build us proper toilets,” said Gana.

“I don’t know how many times we visited their offices asking for only one thing – toilets. Before we used to visit their offices asking for a school, which they failed to build. Now, we have the school, we are asking for proper toilets. Still our government is failing us. Maybe they are waiting for another non-profit organisation to come so that they can claim the credit,” he said.

Provincial department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said the district director will send a team to do an assessment at Zwelinzima.

A teacher who asked not to be named said that every morning when he goes to school he prays he doesn’t need to use the toilet.

“Imagine if they [learners] can see me relieving myself in a field,” he said.

Itumeleng Mothlabane, provincial Equal Education head, said, according to the 2023 Education Facility Management System report, 506 schools in the province still rely on pit toilets.

He said despite this, the department was returning unspent funds for school infrastructure.

He said on the 10th anniversary of the norms and standards for public
school infrastructure last year, they marched to the provincial office of education in Zwelitsha to demand the eradication of pit latrines. However, no plan has been forthcoming.

Pit toilets built by parents nearly ten years ago. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

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