PRETORIA-- With children in nearly 4,000 schools in South Africa still having to use pit latrines, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative, whichhe described as an answer to an emergency.

The SAFE initiative reaches beyond the bricks and mortar of water and sanitation. SAFE will spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, discomfort and danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools, said President Ramaphosa.

The President, together with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, kicked-off their Tuesday morning, with the launch of the SAFE initiative, rallying leaders of business to pledge their support towards the eradication of pit latrines in schools.

Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces have the highest number of pit latrines or inadequate sanitation facilities.

Reflecting on the tragic deaths of pupils Michael Komape and Lumka Mkhethwa, who died in 2014 and 2018 respectively, while using pit toilets, the president said more needs to be done.

The utterly tragic and devastating deaths of children so young and so innocent remind us of the human consequences of service delivery delayed. They remind us that we must focus all our attention not on what we have achieved, but on what we haven't, he said.

Recognizing that Government alone cannot eradicate pit latrines, President Ramaphosa called on stakeholders from the private sector to join hands with government. With today's launch, we are calling on all South Africans, corporates, NGOs and international partners to be part of this ambitious, but necessary, effort to give effect to the fundamental human rights of our learners, he said.

Basic Education Deputy Minister Enver Surty led the ceremony of pledges, in which more than 100 million Rand (about 7.0 million US dollars) were raised towards the eradication of pit latrines by businesses such as Avbob, Lonmin and Sasol.

While SAFE is a Basic Education Department-led initiative, it partners with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation to roll-out access to safe sanitation facilities across schools.

In whatever way we each choose to assist, there is an urgent need to collectively develop infrastructure that will bring dignity to those who lack safe and adequate sanitation and thereby, improve public health," said President Ramaphosa.

We seek sustainable and affordable solutions that have community support. We seek partners that will not rest until every school and every learner has decent, safe and appropriate sanitation."