19/03/2018 06:34 SAST | Updated 19/03/2018 06:34 SAST

'Horrific Coincidence': Girl Drowns In Pit Latrine As School Infrastructure Case Is Heard

Equal Education says government can no longer claim budgeting constraints as an excuse for not building toilets at schools.

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 3 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga is interviewed outside the Sisulu home on June 3, 2011 in Linden, Johannesburg, South Africa. Many politicians came to offer condolences after ANC stalwart Albertina Sisulu passed away on June 2, 2011. (Photo by Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

It was an "horrific coincidence" that in the same week that 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa drowned in a pit latrine at her Eastern Cape school, Equal Education was in court trying to get Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to enforce her department's minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure, the NGO said.

According to the Saturday Star, Equal Education belies that Motshekga, the department's director-general Mathanzima Mweli, Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula and provincial departmental head Themba Kojana are to blame for the incident.

The NGO also said it "beggars belief" that the department incorrectly named Mketwa as Viwe Jali last week.

Tshepo Motsepe, general secretary of Equal Education reportedly said: "What pains me is that poor children in our country have been told that education will liberate them but they're dying at our schools. This poor child was safer at home than at school. If your start in life is learning conditions like this, then you're setting up these kids for failure but the state expects them to beat the odds. These conditions can be fixed. I mean, it's a toilet, for goodness sake."

"They got the name of the child wrong. How disrespectful to the family - they killed the wrong child," said Motsepe.

NGO Section 27 is also representing the family of 5-year-old Michael Komape, who died in a pit latrine in Limpopo four years ago, in court. Mark Heywood, executive director of Section 27 reportedly said,

"Only three months ago in court in Limpopo we put up as evidence pictures of toilets in schools in Limpopo as dangerous as the pit toilet that caused the death of Michael.

"Lumka's death is a complete indictment of the state's failure to take seriously the warnings of these dangers and to respect the rights of these young learners.

"Even if kids don't die, which is the worst, on Monday, thousands of children will go to school and look into the contents of filthy, overflowing, dangerous toilets and their dignity will be attacked and they face health risks."

Late last week, Motshekga said the Eastern Cape education department had exhausted its maintenance budget. According to Eyewitness News (EWN), Motshekga expressed "extreme sadness" around the incident, and said counselling was being provided to pupils at the school.

Equal Education went to court in a bid to have the department's norms and standards for school infrastructure, published in 2013, fixed.

According to GroundUp, during the final day of the hearing last week, the state argued that the department of education was not solely responsible for school infrastructure and stressed that there were severe budgeting constraints.

But Motsepe told the Saturday Star that budgeting problems could not be used as an excuse.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that the governing party has no plan to improve the lives of poor black people - the government forces parents to send children to schools that are unsafe for learning to take place in an undignified environment.

"With resources that are available sometimes being unspent or misappropriated, apartheid can no longer be an excuse.

"When Michael's family filed for a claim against the state, you could hear the state advocate insinuating the family was suing for money," he reportedly said.