In Mfuleni, Wesbank, Silversands and Kuils River, a Weekend Argus team this week witnessed a number of young children walking through bushy areas before dawn in small groups, and in some cases on their own.
In areas such as Brooklyn, Maitland and Maitland Garden Village, youngsters similarly making their way to school through the gloom were barely visible to motorists and in some places were forced to walk in the road because the sidewalks were not paved.
Pupils from Mfuleni Primary School said they left home as early as 6.30am in order to arrive at school an hour later in time for porridge. They found the walk tiring but were not worried about their safety because they usually walked in a group.
“We walk together because we are taught in school that it is always best to walk in large groups,” said Grade 4 pupil Sivuyile Mbangani, 10.
Phumeza Bombo, who lives in Arc, said she walked her son half the way to school every day but then he had to walk alone for the rest of the way to the bus stop.
“He is in Grade 3 this year, but he can walk alone. He has been walking since last year. He walks for 20 minutes and then he catches a bus,” she said. “I don’t have a choice because I need to get to work myself. I do worry about my child, but there is nothing I can do at this point,” she said.
Two Grade 8 pupils, both aged 12, from Silversands High School, said they walked on their own for more than 45 minutes from their Mfuleni homes to get to school every morning but were not afraid of potential attackers.
“We leave the house at seven o’clock and we walk alone but we are not scared. We are used to it already but it is tiring. Sometimes my uncle walks with us, though,” said one of the duo.
Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Milicent Merton confirmed that the department only provided transport to children who lived in rural areas and resided 5km away from school.
“The department’s learner transport scheme provides transport for about 57 000 learners on 541 routes, in mainly rural areas,” she said.
Ewald Botha, the spokesperson for Community Safety MEC Dan Plato, said the department had launched 48 “walking bus” initiatives in the province. This was intended to create “a safe and supervised route for learners to and from school every day with the commitment and involvement of the community playing a central part to help create safer environments”.
A spate of violence against women and children in the city motivated civil society groups to march to Parliament earlier this week to deliver a memorandum to Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula and Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha. The march follows a series of awareness drives outside several courts and police stations. Twenty-three children have been murdered in the Western Cape this year.