Spotlight on school transport after deaths

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Copy of ND MOOIRIVER 11 (41885854) DAILY NEWS Teachers at the Rietvlei farm where a bakkie plunged into a sludge dam on Monday morning. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal Transport MEC, Willies Mchunu, described the Midlands dam accident as a “great tragedy”, saying it had forced the issue of unsuitable transportation of children back under the microscope.

Five children died in the crash.

Schoolchildren should not be transported in faulty, unchecked vehicles and the owners of such vehicles should send them for regular inspections, he said.

“The suspicion of brake failure hints at a faulty vehicle, but the investigation into the incident will make the circumstances clearer.”

Mchunu said he and officials from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education would have to work together to make sure legislation and guidelines on transportation were adhered to.

“I’m very concerned about the continued use of bakkies to transport the public, especially school learners. We strongly urge parents to work with us to ensure that learners are safe on the road.”

The MEC said various factors – including whether the children involved in yesterday’s crash were seated or not; whether they were protected by a “barricade”; and if the vehicle had a canopy – would have to be taken into account to determine if the driver had been reckless.

The government would continue to extend free pupil transport services to more needy communities as part of the process of providing easy access to transportation and education.

“We are currently providing scholar transport to approximately 22 000 learners who attend more than 210 schools, and 9 000 bicycles for learners in both rural and urban communities. We will be extending these services to more communities.”

Spokesman for the education department, Muzi Mahlambi, said the 25 children who were recovering in hospital would receive counselling.

“Education officials are planning to visit the affected schools where these learners are from to do a psychological debriefing of their peers,” he said. “At this stage, we will not speculate as to what happened until the police have completed their investigation.”

Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said: “The cause of the accident is unknown at this stage.”

Doris Makhanya, a teacher from one of the schools attended by some of the victims, told the Daily News staff and pupils were shocked by the crash.

She cited the overloading of bakkies transporting pupils as a cause for major concern.

“We have warned our children not to travel by these kind of means but they have no option. There are no other forms of transport,” Makhanya said.

“The policing of the transport that conveys these children up and down to school needs to be greater.”

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