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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


JONES, Chris. The lack of proper sanitation and access to water in South African schools: How an ethics of responsibility can help. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.3, pp.476-497. ISSN 2224-7912.

The right of access to sufficient water is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996; that this implies a right to basic sanitation as well is borne out by section 3(1) of the Water Services Act 108 of 1997, which provides that "[e]veryone has a right of access to basic water supply and basic sanitation". In this regard there are many challenges, not only in South Africa, but throughout Africa. This article focuses on the situation in South Africa only, and in particular on how it applies in South African schools. According to the South African Human Rights Commission, it is the duty of all spheres of government to ensure that water and sanitation services are provided in an efficient, fair and sustainable manner. This raises the question of which theoretical approach to this duty one should take. In answering this question, the article looks at an ethics of responsibility that is not restricted to purely theoretical insights but seeks to bring about real change in everyday life. The focus is on the Human Rights Commission's report,1 (2021a) in particular, which deals with the matter of sanitation and water resources in South African schools - in all nine provinces of the country. Although the government has taken significant steps since 1994 to provide a relevant, effective, inclusive and sustainable teaching and learning environment, there are still serious shortcomings, especially with regard to the sanitation infrastructure and water supply in schools. Detailed information on this situation provided by the different provincial education departments and included in the report of the Human Rights Commission, is discussed. According to this report, there are still 366 schools with no water supply, and a further 3 297 schools that still use pit toilets. 37 858 teachers and 1 039 117 learners are affected by this situation. These statistics reveal a dire situation that should be addressed most urgently so that the dignity of and respect for the teachers and learners involved can be restored, and the United Nations' sustainable development goals 4 and 6 for education, water and sanitation can be achieved. It should be central to the policy of the Department of Basic Education and should be one of its key priorities. Achieving the above-mentioned requires not only political will but also ethical leadership. In the light of this, an ethics of responsibility is considered in order to see how it can contribute to and provide motivation for meeting the above-mentioned sanitation and water challenges in the country's schools. More specifically, the Stellenbosch philosopher Anton van Niekerk's ethics of responsibility is discussed. The aim is to determine whether this theoretical framework can be effective in helping the responsible persons - in this case the government and all the departments concerned - to resolve the problems referred to above. Particular attention is paid to three key ideas in Van Niekerk's approach to an ethics of responsibility, namely fallibility, an ethics for the future (or what Hans Jonas refers to as an "ethics of futurity"), and phronesis or practical wisdom - the last-mentioned as found in Aristotle's reasoning. Van Niekerk's approach is then integrated with the South African theologian Etienne de Villiers' approach to an ethics of responsibility, and how it can be applied in order to address the problems of sanitation and water supply in South African schools. De Villiers focuses on, among other things, the actions, strategies and policies that seek to promote and strengthen an ethical life as effectively as possible. He emphasises that such an ethic should be "contextually appropriate", promote "peaceful coexistence and cooperation", and be democratic. Finally, some important characteristics of an ethics of responsibility are addressed, namely that it should optimally facilitate human flourishing; should be contemporary and have normative value; should be able to make social-scientific analyses of relevant societal contexts; should recognise the so-called "thick" and "thin" or maximal and minimal moralities in our contemporary society; and, finally, that no ethical conviction can claim that it is universally valid for all people. It should furthermore focus on not only the responsible handling of a set of values but also ethical decision-making. Sometimes certain situations require us to act in an activist and prophetic way, and when a certain matter is neglected - in this case the sanitation infrastructure and water supply in schools - society should demonstrate resistance and outrage.

Palabras clave : phronesis; Anton van Niekerk; ethics of responsibility; Etienne de Villiers; fallibilism; futurity; phronesis; sanitation; schools; South African Human Rights Commission; water.

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