In August 2013, equalisers in Tembisa, a township outside of Johannesburg in Gauteng province, launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign. They vowed not to stop the campaign until all students enjoyed dignified and safe sanitation in their schools. Since then, we have conducted one of the largest social audits in South Africa. We organised a march of 2,000 Equal Education (EE) members, picketed and protested. We have met with government officials and members of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature to express our demands. Today, our campaign includes EE student members ("equalisers"), EE parent members, churches and community organisations in over 20 townships in all regions of Gauteng including Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Sedibeng and the West Rand.
In response to our campaign, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has already spent R150 million to upgrade the sanitation conditions at 578 schools serving about 500,000 students. Government contractors have fixed or replaced the toilets, taps, pipes and basins at these schools. Some schools have received new toilet blocks altogether. Politicians and government officials throughout the GDE have spoken out on the need for principals and School Governing Bodies to better maintain toilets, even issuing a new manual to guide schools on how to do this.
More recently, the GDE committed to spending R50 million to fix the toilets at the 50 worst schools in Gauteng. It promised to fix all the matric toilet blocks in the province. In addition, the GDE promised to undertake significant policy changes by 16 June 2015 that, if implemented, will improve access to toilets, maintenance, soap, sanitary pads and toilet paper in schools.
See a history of our campaign below.
Launching the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign
In August 2013, equalisers in Tembisa, a township outside Johannesburg in Gauteng province, decided they wanted to improve to improve their schools. They conducted a survey to identify the biggest challenge they were facing. They found that poor sanitation was a major issue across all schools. In response, these equalisers launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign and promised not to stop the campaign until all students enjoyed dignified and safe sanitation conditions in their schools.
To start, equalisers recorded the state of their toilets every day, twice a day for two weeks. In total, we audited 11 high schools, or over two thirds of the high schools in Tembisa. We found that at over half the high schools we audited, more than 100 students shared a single working toilet. Many schools had broken or non-functioning taps. Some days, there was no water. Students did not have access to soap or toilet paper. Sanitary bins were full so girls threw their pads on the floor.
We met with government officials who ignored our requests to develop a plan to solve this sanitation crisis. We wrote to the then Gauteng MEC for Education Ms. Barbara Creecy because, as MEC, she was primarily responsible for solving the crisis. Yet, she ignored our letters.
In response, we publicly launched the Gauteng Sanitation Campaign on 19 November 2013, World Toilet Day. After strong media coverage, EE was invited to meet with MEC Creecy. She promised to address the crisis but refused to say how she would do so.
The Delivery of Pre-Fabricated Toilet Blocks
On 12 January 2014, MEC Creecy visited Tembisa to inspect school toilets. She announced that she would be delivering two pre-fabricated toilet blocks to five different schools in Tembisa, for a total of 10 new toilet blocks. She also said she would be sending contractors to Tembisa and other areas to address the poor state of school sanitation. At the time, EE applauded MEC Creecy’s actions while pointing out that she had not yet met our demand to issue a sanitation plan.
In the first half of 2014, EE student members continued to monitor their school toilets. The pre-fabricated toilets arrived, yet they remained closed to students. Contractors took a long time to connect the toilets to the water and electricity systems. Afterwards, principals noted that the structures were insecure and did not want to open them to students.
Equalisers Clean Their Own Toilets and Try to Build Better Maintenance Systems
In the meantime, EE members sought to improve the sanitary conditions in their schools. They organized “big cleans” where student and parent members jointly cleaned and painted the toilet blocks. They ran workshops with about 5,000 students to emphasize the importance of proper sanitation. They also sought to revitalize or establish schools' respective Environmental Committees. These committees – either dormant or non-existent – are responsible for monitoring the maintenance of infrastructure in their schools. EE members sought to build a group of parents, teachers and community members to carry out this function. Equalisers are still working with School Governing Bodies and principals to improve school level maintenance.
MEC Lesufi Promises to Fix All School Toilets
In June 2014, Mr. Panyaza Lesufi entered office as the new Gauteng MEC for Education. On 8 July, EE met with MEC Lesufi to discuss our sanitation campaign and outstanding challenges. For example, we raised the fact that the pre-fabricated toilet blocks were still closed to students. He promised to get back to us about the pre-fabricated toilet blocks by 14 July. This deadline passed with no response.
On 15 July, MEC Lesufi came to Tembisa to promise to fix all the toilets in Gauteng by the end of August – his first 100 days in office. He also promised to provide all girl learners with dignity packs and fully implement Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. By then, EE members in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane had joined the campaign. Their toilets were also in poor conditions and they were excited to hear MEC Lesufi’s commitment to sanitation. In Tembisa, EE members were keenly aware that the pre-fabricated toilet blocks in their schools were still not open to students.
All EE members in Gauteng committed to monitoring to see if MEC Lesufi kept his promise. After his announcement, EE tried to contact MEC Lesufi multiple times to point out the continued sanitation issues in Tembisa. However, we received no response.
MEC Lesufi Falls Short of Meeting His Promise
In the first week of September, EE conducted a snap audit of the toilets in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema, Tembisa and Tsakane. Students in Tembisa counted over 200 blocked or closed toilets alone. Their prefabricated toilet blocks remained locked. In August, EE members in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane carried out a similar sanitation audit in their schools. This audit showed that on any given day, up to 80 toilets were blocked or closed in these areas. It was clear that the GDE had not delivered on MEC Lesufi’s promise. After nearly a year of campaigning, little had changed.
Marching and Winning R150 Million in Sanitation Upgrades for 500,000 Students
EE student and parent members decided to march to the offices of the GDE to demand proper sanitation. Soon after we wrote to MEC Lesufi telling him we would march, contractors appeared at schools in Tembisa almost overnight to fix schools' taps, toilets, basins and pipes. Contractors were also seen on the premises at a few of the schools in Daveyton, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane.
On 11 September, two days before the march, MEC Lesufi called an emergency press conference in Tembisa. There he announced that he would be spending R150 million to upgrade the sanitation conditions at 580 schools serving over 500,000 students around the province. On 12 September, MEC Lesufi invited EE to a meeting where he provided a progress report on the upgrades to date. The report noted that our campaign had “added pressure to ensure delivery."
The report included the names of all schools in Tembisa that were slated for improvements, with details on the precise improvements to be performed. EE requested a similar report for all 580 schools. MEC Lesufi promised to provide this, though we never received it. (We did later receive a report on the progress of the upgrades, which encompassed all the information provided in the initial report without any further detail on the type of upgrades to be performed at the schools outside of Tembisa).
On 13 September, 2,000 EE student and parent members from Daveyton, Kwa-Thema, Tembisa and Tsakane marched to the offices of the GDE. MEC Lesufi joined the march along with members of his staff. There, he listened to EE members explain how poor sanitation affected them. He responded by repeating his R150 million promise, noting that he had allocated R15 million to fix all 51 schools in Tembisa by 19 September. The rest of the schools were to be completed by 30 November. At the march, EE committed itself to monitoring his promise to ensure upgrades were completed. Afterward, EE General Secretary Brad Brockman published a comprehensive history of the campaign up to that date.
Monitoring the Progress in Tembisa
To monitor this promise, we first conducted a smaller audit of the work at 48 of the 51 schools in Tembisa in late September and October. To do this, EE compiled a list of the promises MEC Lesufi had made to each school in Tembisa. Members there visited the schools’ bathrooms to see what had changed. We also talked to students, principals, teachers and cleaning staff to understand the problems in their toilets. The audit showed that all schools had received some improvements, even though more work remained.
Building the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition
As MEC Lesufi had promised to improve 580 schools around the province - not just in Tembisa - we decided to build the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition to monitor implementation across the province. The coalition includes churches like the South African Council of Churches Gauteng and the Moral Regeneration Movement. It includes civics like the Alexandra Civic Organisation, the Gauteng Civic Association and the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO). Finally, it includes community organisations like Sidinga Uthando and Bua Funda.
Conducting the Gauteng Schools Social Audit
In March and April 2015, 500 students, parents, teachers and grandparents who were members of organisations belonging to the Gauteng Education Crisis Coalition came together to audit the learning conditions of 200,000 students in over 200 schools in more than 20 communities in Gauteng – or about 10% of the township schools in the province. This is one of the largest social audits in South Africa to date.
The audit found a sanitation crisis in our schools. In 30% of the high schools audited, over 100 learners were sharing a single working toilet. 1 in 5 toilets were either broken or locked. About 70% of schools do not provide access to soap and 40% do not provide access to toilet paper or sanitary pads. Over 25% of schools have more than 400 students for 1 maintenance staff member. The audit also identified other issues like overcrowding, lack of access to sports fields, labs and libraries as well as the mass exclusion of students with disabilities. See a summary of our results and the full report for further details on our findings.
Demanding that the Gauteng Department of Education Do More to Fix the Sanitation Crisis
On May 16 2015, we held the Gauteng Schools Social Audit Summit in Soweto to announce the results of our audit. We demanded that the GDE fix the sanitation crisis by 16 June 2015. In order to do this, we demanded that the GDE:
MEC Lesufi "Accepts Our Demands Unconditionally"
MEC Lesufi responded to these demands by stating that he “fully accepted all [our] demands unconditionally.” He also made a series of other bold promises:
We continue to monitor to ensure MEC Lesufi keeps his word.
After the summit, the GDE developed an immediate intervention programme to deal with the refurbishment of 471 schools in Gauteng. These schools included “The 50 Worst Schools” that were identified and were scheduled to be completed by 30 July 2015. In addition to the 50 schools, another 200 schools were earmarked for completion by the deadline of 30 August 2015. The remaining 221 schools were earmarked for completion by 30 September 2015.
After requesting preliminary reports without success, Equal Education resorted to conducting random audits at 17 of the schools that were promised upgrades. All of the schools on the list had contractors building everything from toilet blocks, to new classrooms to the major refurbishment of existing infrastructure.
The outcomes of the survey were:
EE had advocated for a systemic approach to fixing sanitation facilities in overcrowded township schools, the current approach by the GDE is no different from the “high stakes” focus on Grade 12 as if other grades in the schooling career do not matter.
In our press statement on World Toilet Day in 2015, we made the following additional demands to the GDE:
On 15 December 2015 the GDE responded, detailing among other things the list of schools which received dignity packs, and maintenance plans for all Gauteng schools. EE is still waiting for a comprehensive report on all the refurbishment done in the 400+ schools.