The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) seems to have paid up to twice as much as necessary to replace pit toilets at schools in Limpopo - with the money going to a little known Gauteng based contractor with no experience in construction.
At the end of 2018, not long after president Cyril Ramaphosa launched the SAFE (Sanitation Appropriate for Education) project to tackle the problem of pit toilets at schools, the NLC stepped into the arena.
In November 2018 the NLC approved R20 million for two projects to build toilets at schools in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. Ten schools were to benefit from the R10 million Limpopo grant, according to an NLC press release. The money was channelled via a Pretoria-based non-profit company, Zibsifusion.
According to NLC spokesperson, Ndivhuho Mafela, a study commissioned by the NLC showed that in Limpopo there are "4,069 schools of which only 20% may have recently received new water and sanitation infrastructure. This translates to the fact that almost 80% of the schools still rely on old infrastructure for water and sanitation services."
The figures quoted by the NLC may not be correct. But the Lotteries Commission were not the only ones battling to find out how many schools still have the dreaded pit latrines.
Early in 2018 SECTION27 took the Limpopo Education Department to court on behalf of the parents of five-year-old Michael Komape, who drowned after falling into a dilapidated pit latrine at his school. The terrible incident happened in January 2014, just two months after the government passed legislation stating that pit toilets were not allowed in South Africa's schools. The legislation required the education department to address the problem within three years.
In November 2016 the Limpopo education department produced its Infrastructure Norms & Standards Report, quoting from research conducted by the CSIR. SECTION27 later had to subpoena the CSIR to obtain the list. According to this list, there were 3,909 public ordinary schools in the province, of which 3,023 had pit toilets. There were 889 schools with only pit toilets and eight with no sanitation facilities on the premises at all.
In April 2018, four years after Michael's death, the judge in the Komape case ordered the department to give the court "a list containing names and locations of all the schools in rural areas [of Limpopo province] with pit toilets for use by the learners". That list, which was handed to the court on 31 August, said there were 3,752 schools in the province, of which 1,474 still made use of pit toilets.
SECTION27 analysed the list and quickly spotted that it contained both duplications and omissions. The numbers differed markedly from those used by President Ramaphosa when launching the SAFE project, when he cited data showing 1,360 schools with pit latrines in Limpopo. Of those, 507 had only pit toilets, he said.
SECTION27 decided to do its own investigation and collected data on sanitation from 86 schools in Limpopo between May and July 2018. It found that nearly half (41) of the schools had unlawful pit toilets. But only 22 of the schools it analysed were on the department's August 2018 pit toilet list. "That means 19 schools with pit toilets have been left off the list," says SECTION27 on its website.
It may all sound like a tussle about figures, but the consequences are dire. Some schools have simply dropped off the radar; they are unlikely to get help and the pupils will continue to be exposed to dangerous and inhumane conditions.
But whatever the true number of pit toilets in schools, it's clear that the problem is serious - so serious that resources cannot be wasted when trying to help.
The NLC to the rescue
On 6 November 2018 Phillemon Letwaba, Chief Operating Officer of the NLC, signed a grant agreement of R10 million for the "implementation of sanitation facilities in ten public schools". The recipient of the grant was Zibsifusion, a non profit company with an address in Garsfontein, Pretoria.
In an article about the toilets grant in March this year, GroundUp found that Zibsifusion was a typical "shelf NPC", registered and set up by accountants and made tax compliant, before being sold as a going concern with newly appointed directors. Controversial Pretoria-based lawyer, Lesley Ramulifho, is a former director of Zibsifusion.
Ramulifho also claims to be the chairperson of Denzhe Primary Care, which was the beneficiary in a R27.5-million project to build a drug rehabilitation centre near Pretoria. The project is currently under investigation and both the NLC and Denzhe have failed to explain how more than R20 million was spent.
It took several requests to get the NLC to provide details of the R10 million Limpopo schools sanitation project. Eventually a PowerPoint presentation was supplied. This report turned out to be false as it contained misleading information and photos supposedly depicting "before" and "after" scenarios.
The report, compiled by Zibsifusion, named eight schools that were supposed to receive new toilets. Toilets at two of the schools, Tibanefontein Primary and Ncheleleng Secondary were ceremoniously handed over by the NLC. The "handing over" of toilets at a third school, Waterval High, turned into an embarrassment, when it became clear that no new toilets had been built. Instead, contractors had merely done minor refurbishments to existing toilets. The handover was cancelled.
Construction work at the other schools had either already commenced or would commence soon, according to the NLC. "The NLC anticipates the project to be completed in July 2019," said Mafela.
Mafela did not respond to a query about why an unknown Gauteng-based company with no track record or experience in construction had been selected to run the project. He emphasised that the legislation allowed the NLC to appoint an implementing organisation. "... implementing agents/organisations are selected after a process of consultation with a range of stakeholders, including beneficiaries of the project," he said.
Mafela refused to name the contractors involved in the project. "All infrastructure projects of the NLC are supervised by a panel of engineers who are technical experts in the specific field," he said.
The cost of a toilet
In a SECTION27 report titled Towards Safe and Decent School Sanitation in Limpopo, reference is made in a footnote to a "R50,000 per seat amount provided in the Department's 2018 Norms and Standards Provincial Implementation Plan."
But the cost depends on the type of toilet, among other things.
The NLC opted for the "Enviroo Loo type" for its sanitation projects in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
The Enviro Loo toilet is a South African design that has won several international awards and is used in many other countries. A brochure describes it as "a waterless, non-polluting, low maintenance toilet system, needing little more than the sun and some wind to operate".
The two schools where Zibsifusion built ablution blocks, Tibanefontein Primary and Ncheleleng Secondary, both made use of Enviro Loo systems. At both schools two blocks containing four toilets each were constructed. The building for the boys' toilets also included an evaporative four bowl urinal.
Asked about costs, the Chief Operating Officer of Enviro Loo, Mark La Trobe, said the cost of a standard toilet, which includes the bowl and the seat, is R10,185, VAT excluded. The junior toilets are slightly more expensive, coming in at R10,309 excluding VAT and the four bowl urinal costs R14,386 excluding VAT. At Tibanefontein Primary, the cost of the eight Enviro Loo toilets would have totalled R90,961 excluding VAT. This includes all necessary pipes and brackets, as well as a two-year maintenance contract, certificates of compliance and servicing kits for two years. Enviro Loo's representatives also train a local community member to service and maintain the toilets once the contract ends.
Enviro Options does not demolish the old toilets or construct new buildings, said La Trobe. A properly registered and accredited contractor has to be brought in for that.
Taking this into account, La Trobe said the average "per seat" cost of recent school projects came in at between R56,000 and R77,000 per seat.
The Department of Basic Education has also done research on costs: in its August 2018 sanitation audit it indicated that the average cost per seat for Limpopo was R94,071. The department estimated that it would cost R918 million to build new toilets at 507 schools (9,412 seats) in Limpopo. This estimate includes construction costs, sinking and equipping boreholes, demolishing old structures and all professional fees. These estimates were used by Ramaphosa during his SAFE presentation last year.
We approached a Vhembe-based building contractor for a detailed quote on building two ablution blocks with an eight-seat Enviro Loo toilet setup (four seats each), exactly as at Tibanefontein and Ncheleleng.
The estimate for the construction of a standard four-toilet block came to R248,802 excluding VAT. Provision was made for 18% professional fees, a 5% contingency allowance and 22% for preliminaries. The cost per seat worked out at R62,200 excluding VAT.
How many NLC toilets will be built?
The NLC was requested on several occasions to state how many toilets are to be built, but Mafela only replied with vague answers. Zibsifusion was also requested to provide us with a "cost per seat" estimate, but the questions were simply ignored.
The only way to try and determine the number of seats was to use the little information available and do a guestimate.
Of the eight schools named, one clearly does not need new ablution facilities. The work done at Waterval High, according to a member of the School Governing Body, could not have cost "more than R10,000". At another of the schools identified, Tshikhovhokhovho Primary School at Khumbe village at Lwamondo, an SGB member said the school had already built toilets using funds raised by the learners.
Apart from Waterval High, the schools identified all have between 150 and 200 learners each. These are small schools and a realistic assumption is they would need similar ablution blocks to those built at Tibanefontein and Ncheleleng.
Using the local building contractor's estimate, the two toilet blocks at each school would have cost R572,246 (including VAT).
Using the Department of Basic Education's "worst case" scenario, the cost of building such toilets at nine schools in Limpopo will be in the region of R6.77 million.
But the NLC allocated R10 million to Zibsifusion to build the toilets. This works out at R138,888 per toilet seat, more than double the cost the local contractor quoted and 47% more than the DBE's estimate.
When the NLC's Mafela was asked what is done to make sure costs are realistic, he said the NLC had "price-check" mechanisms in place "to ensure that costs are not inflated".
Pushed to supply more accurate figures on the "cost-per-seat" for the project, he answered: "The response sent to yourself is the NLC's response to your enquiry and we will request that it be quoted in full to avoid you misrepresenting our position."
Questions about the project were sent to Louisa Mangwagape and Liesl Moses, two directors of Zibsifusion. Neither of them responded.
Van Zyl is publisher of Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror. This article is jointly published by the Limpopo Mirror and GroundUp.