Angie Motshekga: It is unseemly to use child’s death to cast aspersions at government

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga claims toilets have been renewed at the school where Langalam Viki died.

The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, recently conducted a media conference to discuss the education sector. After four-year-old Langalam Viki drowned at Mcwangele Junior Secondary School after falling into a pit toilet, attention was mostly focused on school infrastructure.

Following a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers where they reviewed challenges affecting basic education, Motshekga disclosed that the media briefing was an update to the nation.

“You might recall when Lumka Mketwa died in a pit latrine in 2018, I said in a statement that Lumka had died in an undignified manner that I found incredibly disturbing. I added that, at the time, to know that as a sector we had not been able to address these infrastructure issues fast enough, for a number of reasons, broke my heart,” said Motshekga.

She vowed that tragedies like these would only make them more determined to push forward with the Accelerated School Infrastructure Initiative and build the infrastructure that these schools so desperately needed to become safe havens for children.

According to Motshekga, they took action. “The first is we increased the technical capacity of officials in the infrastructure team by recruiting five built environment specialists, including a head of infrastructure, who are solely focused on implementing our infrastructure projects,” she said.

“Secondly, as you are aware, the President launched the Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) initiative to specifically address the infrastructure backlog in our schools. The rapid and successful rollout of Grade R in our schools meant that just under 4000 schools were found to be lacking in either age-appropriate infrastructure, in particular, or adequate infrastructure in general,” she added.

She claimed that the government has been working hard to uphold the President’s promise. She said that the department had found 3398 schools that lacked some sort of infrastructure and that they have subsequently delivered 2478 projects to schools all around the country.

The President’s request for corporate social investment contributions was heeded by the private sector. According to the Minister of Basic Education, 117 of the 184 completed projects that were given to donors have been completed.

“The death of a child is something really serious and it is unseemly to use that death to cast aspersions at government or paint a picture of an uncaring, under-performing government,” said Motshekga.

She mentioned that the school where Langalam died had brand-new toilets. She said that Langalam was discovered in a senior toilet’s tank rather than the one she would have often used. She was also found fully dressed.

She also had some ‘disturbing’ questions, which she believed could only be resolved by law enforcement.

“Why would she have gone to a senior toilet? She was not found on the pit side. It is physically impossible for a human body to make its way from the pit side of the toilet to the back of the toilet and Langalam was too young to lift the manhole that covers the tank. How did she then end up in that section of the toilet? Lastly, any child using the toilet would pull their shorts down, but he was found fully dressed,” said Motshekga.

Motshekga’s assertions have been refuted by Baxolile Nodada, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Shadow Minister for Basic Education, who argues that Motshekga is ‘misleading the nation on pit toilets.’

“It is clear that neither the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, nor her Department (DBE) is willing to accept responsibility for the danger unsafe pit toilets still pose to learners at schools across the country,” said Nodada.

He continued, “Had Minister Motshekga visited the school, as the DA had done, she might have known that firstly, the toilets where Langalam was found, is the only ones available at that school. And secondly, that if those toilets conformed to the Norms and Standards, it is high time that the standards are amended as no human should have to suffer the indignity of such facilities.”

The cause of Langalam’s death is under investigation by the police, and the DA has committed to pursue legal action to force the construction of safe and suitable sanitation facilities throughout South Africa and the eradication of pit toilets.