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Solving South Africa’s school toilet crisis

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In a recent article on News24, South African political analyst, Melanie Verwoerd challenged the private sector to fund “2,000 safe toilet seats to go to schools”. Local nonprofit organisation, Breadline Africa has a 30-year track record of providing safe and appropriate facilities to more than a quarter of a million children already and stands ready to make this a reality … All it takes is the commitment and support of companies and individuals willing to invest in the future of South Africa’s children. Verwoerd’s challenge came in the wake of yet another tragic story of a three-year-old, Langalam Viki, who drowned in three metres of toilet waste in a pit toilet in a village near Queenstown in the Eastern Cape earlier this month.

Breadline Africa, as one of the biggest providers of educational infrastructure for poverty relief in Southern Africa since its establishment in 1993, has scaled up its impact significantly over the past five years. Building on this momentum, the organisation is poised to further amplify its impact, positioning it well to lead the charge in addressing the pit toilet crisis in the country’s schools. Nearly 30 years ago, container conversions were considered ‘alternative’ compared to bricks and mortar. Covid-19 led to supply shortages and set the organisation on a new path of considering alternative, more environmentally friendly infrastructure options. These solutions include various forms of waterless toilets, sandbag and eco-beam structures that have excellent insulation properties and in the high density and volatile communities where Breadline Africa works, they offer an improved soundproof, fireproof and bulletproof solution. Other materials include marine fibreglass, recycled plastic aggregate brick, rammed earth and recycled tyres.

The South African Human Rights Commission released a report in September 2021, stating that more than one million learners and teachers are affected by the challenges of poor sanitation in schools. In the Eastern Cape alone, 44% of the schools surveyed were using pit toilets as their primary ablution facilities. A further 30% were using ventilated improved pit (VIP) toilets. In KwaZulu-Natal, 83% of schools were primarily reliant on pit toilets and VIP toilets. Government data reveals that in 2022, 5,167 SA schools lacked proper ablution facilities and were utilising pit toilets. The Early Childhood Development Census 2021 showed that 17,000 (40%) of SA ECDs do not have flushing toilets – and 19,000 do not have access to running water.

This represents a greater danger to children under seven. “We recognise the right of everyone to have access to safe and dignified sanitation. We see so many educational facilities with unsafe and inadequate toilet infrastructure, that offer little in the way of dignity and hygiene,” says Peter Attard Montalto, Intellidex Managing Director, Global Lead, Capital Markets and Political Economy, and Breadline Africa board member. “In partnership with the private sector, we have the opportunity to restore dignity, maintain good health and keep the children safe in an environment that should be a positive one – school.” Section 28 of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution states that ‘every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, health care and social services, as well as the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation’. Wagner added: “Our goal is to help children succeed in school from an early age, and a vital component is basic sanitation and hygiene. In a time where such emphasis has been placed on hygiene and personal health, a parent should not have to worry about their child getting sick due to poor sanitation at a school.

“So much more can be achieved if we work together. It costs just R30,000 to provide one fully functional toilet, meeting the needs of 20 children. For as little as R1,500, you can save a child’s life, converting pit toilets and buckets into decent toilet facilities urgently – helping to keep little ones safe and restoring hygiene and dignity to South African schools.”

To help us provide safe and hygienic toilet infrastructure to children around the country, click here: https://breadlineafrica.org/toilet-crisis/

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