Safe scholar transport is a right

Lobby group Equal Education believes the government has violated the right of pupils at 12 schools in Nquthu in northern KwaZulu-Natal for failing to provide them with transport.

The organisation has been campaigning for scholar transport in the area for about two years.

In the 2016-2017 financial year, the department of basic education said 521 711 pupils required transport, but only 419 849 got it. Equal Education believes the number of pupils needing transport is much higher.

The provinces with the biggest shortfall were KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. This year 96 714 pupils who should be getting transport are walking to school, according to a report presented to the portfolio committee on basis eduction.

In March, Equal Education took the KwaZulu-Natal government to the high court in Pietermaritzburg to force them to provide transport at the 12 schools. The national ministers of basic education, finance and transport are also cited as respondents in the case.

According to the court papers, the KwaZulu-Natal department of education has a draft policy on transport, which says pupils must be provided with it if they walk more than 3km to school.

In an affidavit, Equal Education’s deputy secretary Nthuthuzo Ndzomo wants the department to explain when the 12 schools will be provided with transport and for the court to direct the provincial departments of education and transport to explain the status of the policy on transport for scholars and if it is not finalised to say when it will be finalised.

Ndzomo said pupils from the 12 schools qualify for transport because they walk more than 3km to their nearest school.

In the affidavit, Ndzomo referred to accounts of pupils who had been raped or had to run away from gangs.

“On Thursday, 25 September 2014, I left school around 16h00. I was on my way home from school with one of the learners at my school. When we were about 1 hour 30 minutes away from school we were walking in an open area when the man grabbed me.

“The man raped me. I don’t know the man but I saw him sometimes walking through our village … the man raped me until 18h30 and then he let me go … He left and I walked home.”

This was an account of a grade 10 pupil from Hlubi High School.

In its court papers, Equal Education quotes the National Learner Transport Policy released in 2015, which states that: “The ability of learners to access education is hampered by the long distances they have to travel to get to school, threats to their safety and security and the cost of transport. Learners have difficulty accessing educational institution due to the inadequacy of learner transport and insufficient schools in areas where they live.”

The policy leaves it up to provincial governments to determine the distance pupils would have to travel to school to benefit from the scholar transport. But pupils who attend a particular school because their parents prefer it, and not because it’s the nearest, are excluded from the policy.

The KwaZulu-Natal draft policy has been in existence since 2013, but at a meeting with the government in April 2015, Equal Education was told the policy had not yet been approved.

Seven of the 12 schools have been acknowledged by the department to require transport but, according to Equal Education, the department has said it cannot provide it because of insufficient funds.

“Again, this has been the refrain for years, with no sign up to now that any steps will be taken to do anything about this either in the short or medium term,” reads the affidavit.

Equal Education also wants the court to direct the provincial department of education to say why five schools on the list have been refused transport on claims that they are schools of choice. One of the five schools not on the list is Hlinzeka Primary School, the only primary school in Vumankala. It is next to Ngwane High School.

Equal Education spokesperson Leanne Jansen-Thomson said the provincial departments of education, transport and finance gave notice to oppose the application and the state attorney had said they asked for permission to file their answering affidavits on July 7.

Last month, the national departments of basic education and transport told Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education that the reason transport was not being rolled out fully was because provinces do not prioritise it in their budgets.

The 12 schools are: Langazela Senior Secondary School, Maceba Secondary School, Mgazi Senior Secondary School, Ubongumenzi High School, Hlinzeka Primary School, Hlubi High School, Magogo Primary School, Manzolwandle Primary School, Ngwane High School, Hlalele Primary School, Nkunyana Primary School and Ukuphumla Secondary School. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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