• Gathwane pupils answer the call on the ground around the spilling pit-latrines
• Painter holding on to school toilet keys until he is paid P4, 800
“Hold your breath and be as quick as possible,” this is the ritual, which has to be endured by Gathwane Primary school pupils as they use the almost spilling over pit latrines daily at the government school.
Small wonder, then, that many pupils at this school are said to be defecating in plastic bags before throwing the dirt away to avoid the stink. Other students would wait until everyone is back in class before taking a quick cover in the long grass behind the locked and unused flush toilets in their moment of need.
The flush toilets were built two years ago but the conflict between the contractors and the Goodhope Sub District forced the contractors to lock them up. In fact it is the sub contractor who was hired to paint the toilet who locked the toilets when the contractor failed to pay the P4 800 painting charge.
“I’ve kept these keys because I was not paid. The council owes me P4 800 for painting the interior of the two blocks of toilets,” explained Wabotlhe Maruping.
Maruping says the flush toilets were built because the pit latrines were posing a health hazard to the pupils.
“The floors are cracked and children avoid them and defecate on the grass outside. The toilets are stinking,” Maruping pointed out.
But the school head insists all is well but would not allow The Voice team to visit the toilets and ascertain that. The Education officer, based in Lobatse was out of office for the whole week and two other senior officers were said to be attending workshops and therefore unavailable to comment on the matter or give consent for the interview.
But village elders are concerned about the unsanitary conditions, fearing an outbreak of diseases.
Incidentally, Botswana is one of the world nations that have pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people who do not have basic sanitation. According to the United Nations, over 2.4 billion around the world are without adequate sanitation and this will be one of the issues on the agenda at the September special review summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York.
Would the pledge translate into tangible improvements for the children of Gathwane primary school?
“Yes, if only the council would pay the contractor,” said a member of the village Development Committee, Benjamin Tebele.
He worries the most about the children’s health.
“We have no powers to force the contractor to submit the keys because we have no money to pay him. Our children are exposed to infections and we could have an outbreak anytime unless something is urgently done,” added Tebele.
Tebele said contrary to what the School head told The Voice, she had earlier complained about the full and stinking toilets to the VDC. He said the school was in fact in the process of draining the toilets and paying somebody to fix them.
The council is well aware of the matter. In fact, the senior assistant council secretary in Goodhope, Patrick Ncayagae contended that the dispute is between the contractor and the sub contractor.
“We paid the contractor, but it failed to pay the sub contractor and that is not our fault. We are going to unlock the toilets soon,” he pointed out.
Though the council is planning to take matters into their hands after two years, the toilets may still remain unused. The greater challenge is water.
“We have a serious issue of running clean water. Due to our geographical setup we don’t have enough ground water because our villages are on upper grounds. You would recall that our senior secondary school was almost closed because of water crisis,” pointed out Ncayagae.
All the 44 schools, 37 clinics and a population than runs into hundred thousands depend on one truck to drain the pit latrines. There is no sewage in the area as well therefore the truck has to travel to and from Lobatse daily and at times from as far as Mabule which is about 200 kilometers away.
There is hope though. The central government is in the process of building a P50 million sewage system in the area.
Ncayagae promises that, “the sewage system would be completed in 2011 and it would help us to be efficient and the truck would be able to make more loads as the journeys to the sewage would be shorter.”