Some schools like Mtshabi in Nkayi had their toilets and water sources collapse due to heavy rains; with COVID-19 remaining a concern, pupils and teachers feel schools may not be safe for them.
Minenhle Mpofu, a form four student at Mtshabi Secondary School in Nkayi, sits by the doorstep of a cracked muddy hut in some deep thought.
While her siblings are hoping and jumping with the excitement of going back to school after months of not going to class following a lengthy COVID-19 induced closure, Mpofu is sad about the development.
Not because she is that notorious kid who does not like school, but the thought of using a bush toilet and walking miles to fetch water while at school haunts her.
There are no toilets and water at her school situated in Matabeleland North province. The wells and toilets collapsed due to heavy rains.
Mpofu’s school is one of those in Matabeleland Province that do not have proper sanitation and water sources, making it risky to reopen them during critical moments when the world is grappling with COVID-19.
“I am happy that schools are finally opening, but l am afraid of going back because we don’t have water and toilets. We will have to walk over two kilometres in search of water and to use the bush toilet. I am afraid of contracting COVID-19,” says Mpofu.
Not only is she exposed to COVID-19 but to abuse as a girl child.
“There are cases of rape in our village, and imagine when people now know that there are girls who use bush toilets,” she says.
Schools are set to open in phases following the Government’s relaxation of the lockdown. Exam classes like that of Mpofu are set to commence on March 15, while the rest will resume classes on March 22.
A teacher at the school, Gilbert Ndlovu, who is expected at school on March 10, says both teachers and students’ lives are at risk.
“Toilets for senior boys, girls and teachers collapsed due to heavy rains in January. Our staff quarters also don’t have toilets. We cannot afford to open in that state because we will be risking. COVID-19 needs safe sources of water for regular washing of hands and hygienic purposes,” he says.
Ndlovu says female learners and teachers are also exposed to sexual abuse.
“There are rape cases reported in this province, and we would not want to give the devil a chance,” add Ndlovu.
“It’s not safe for our sisters and daughters to use the bush toilet. If the government is serious about opening schools, then something needs to be done,” he adds.
Presenting a situational report by the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education on field visits conducted from selected schools to check compliance with COVID-19 regulations; MDC legislator Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga noted that issues of water and sanitation were legacy issues, haunting schools, especially those in rural areas.
Mushonga singled out schools like Sitezi primary and secondary schools in Matabeleland South province where students walk for long distances to fetch water in Tuli River.
Matabeleland Institute of Human Rights coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa says there seems to be no deliberate effort by the government to invest in resilient water and sanitation in Matabeleland schools which are the most affected in the country.
“We have been noting unfortunate incidences of collapsing of water and sanitation infrastructure in most schools in most rural communities of Matabeleland. With schools set to open, this needs to be addressed with urgency.”
“Proper sanitation is a great need not only to ensure inhibited human rights but also to curb the spread of COVID-19,” says Maphosa.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin