On March 1, a pupil died in a fatal taxi accident in Molweni, KwaZulu-Natal, at around 7am, after the taxi the pupil was travelling in had rolled. Nine other occupants were injured.
This is just one of the many cases that involve young pupils, and the risks they are exposed to when they make their way to school every day.
Equal Education, a community-based organisation focused on educational rights and equality in South Africa, is campaigning once again for government to provide safe transport for school pupils.
In November 2017, the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that transport had to be provided by the KwaZulu-Natal department of education to learners in 12 Nquthu schools by April 1 this year.
Equal Education made presentations in Parliament on Wednesday to the Standing Committee on Appropriations on the feasibility and need for scholar transport provided by provincial departments across the country to pupils who would ordinarily walk or travel long distances to reach their schools, or who use unsafe transport options.
“If safe and government-subsidised scholar transport is not provided by government, learners in South Africa will continue to walk distances that put them at a great risk of violent crimes such as sexual assault and robbery, and vulnerable to extreme weather and dangerous terrain,” Equal Education spokesperson Mila Kakaza told City Press.
Apart from walking long distances, pupils are often at the helm of erratic weather conditions, such as heavy rains and cold winters, which place them at risk of falling ill and in turn missing classes altogether.
Equal Education has previously made submissions to Parliament advocating for a conditional grant to be instituted, aimed at specifically funding scholar transport.
“The conditional grant is the ring-fencing of funding for learner transport, provided to provincial education departments to be spent solely for the purpose of providing government-subsidised learner transport,” Kakaza said.
Two models have been outlined, based on research conducted by the International Budget Partnership, under the direction of specialist researcher Debbie Budlender.
“Equal Education undertook a basic calculation to determine whether, if current budget allocations and delivery patterns remained constant, in which year it would become possible that all learners in KwaZulu-Natal who qualify for transport will be provided with it,” Equal Education said in its submission.
Based on the basic education department’s estimate in KwaZulu-Natal, the 2026/27 financial year would be when qualifying learners would receive transport.
“We must emphasise that the calculation based on the department of basic education’s estimate assumes that the need for learner transport remains constant. In the context of school rationalisation, it is likely to increase. The calculation also does not take into account inflation, so it no doubt underestimates the length of time that it would take. The implication would be that large numbers of learners will continue walking brutal distances to and from school,” Kakaza said.
The conditional grant, Kakaza emphasised, was for all learners and not just those in KwaZulu-Natal.
Equal Education researcher, Nicola Soekoe, argued that part of the reason they are calling for a transport grant is because the “provincial education department usually cites inadequate funds as one of the main reasons that they are not providing transport to all learners who qualify”.
Deputy director-general of the department of basic education, Dr Granville Whittle, said in response to Equal Education’s submission that the department’s position was to look into the feasibility of the allocation and implementation of a conditional grant.