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Rural hopes for education face tough road with mobility challenge

The education sector lays bare the inadequacies of mobility in rural areas.

The education sector lays bare the inadequacies of mobility in rural areas.

Published Oct 16, 2023


AS WE mark Transport Month the spotlight is on the state of mobility, or the ability to move with ease, particularly in South Africa's rural areas - particularly as schools reopened last week for the final lap of this year's academic marathon.

This term even those students who care less about school tend to focus, work hard and behave well to ensure they achieve the best results. However, I humbly submit that the challenge of mobility in most rural areas will again, as it has been doing for a very long time now, throw a spanner in the works.

The education sector lays bare the inadequacies of mobility in rural areas.

Due to South Africa’s poor economic growth combined with the development starvation due to apartheid dispensation, some rural areas still do not have sufficient schools. This means there will always be a learner who has to travel to another municipal ward, area or even different town to access education.

Some parents and children also make the personal choice to access education many kilometres away from home if those schools perform better and herald a promise of a better future. The distance between the two points exposes the poor mobility in these areas.

We know very well that with climate change and increased floods, some schools become inaccessible even on crucial exam days because the learners and their educators cannot cross a certain flooded river after heavy rainfall.

Recent rains have been so harsh that they have not only damaged gravel roads but devastated tar roads which lead in and out of rural towns’ CBDs. This as authorities in some of these areas do not have the adequate resources to rebuild this infrastructure to a climate-resistant level.

As I took my cousin to her own school, far away from our home, we were called to the aid of two teenage girls who were trying to negotiate a steep incline with a few hard curves and a few centimetres-wide stream that crossed the gravel road. Some construction work was taking place on this stretch in an attempt to make it a road of a suitable standard.

The young girls were carrying plastic bags, school bags and bags that had their clothes. It was a load that would wear down even the strongest warrior after just a few steps. The afternoon sky was pregnant with a thunderstorm that threatened to cause untold damage.

As I stopped to offer the first girl a lift, she pleaded with us to load her luggage in the car and she would continue to walk up the road with her friend. She just could not betray the other girl who stood about 20 metres ahead in exactly the same predicament. I begged her to climb in and promised her that the other girl would receive the same courtesy despite the car being full.

My cousin asked them why the minibus taxi which had dropped them off at the main roadchad not driven them closer to their destination. The girls said the driver refused to do so, citing the "un-carworthy" stretch of road. And despite my best efforts, I too, could not drop them off at their gate. The road did not allow it. Many other learners face the same issue day after day.

Others face bad roads once a month as they set out to collect their support grants - child and pension - or when an urban based family member sends money home. They wake up at the crack of dawn to be the first in the queue at the post office, bank or supermarket in a town that is many kilometres away.

These areas do not have enough minibus taxis to withstand the consumer demand on grant days. So many have to compromise or improvise.

Imagine needing to travel outside of the taxi's scheduled period. Think of an emergency situation under a combination of these circumstances. It's a mobility disaster. Substandard mobility also deters employment applications and will see some people lose their jobs because of late-coming and the like.

With fuel prices rising so much in recent months and years, many people are thrust deeper into poverty because they can not even afford to take a taxi to town to buy groceries, nor can they walk such a far distance. There also are no cheaper alternatives like buses or trains. Its a losing situation.

Only the privileged few, who can afford to buy SUVs or 4×4s can negotiate these broken roads, are able to enjoy mobility.

As it stands, the prevailing mobility challenges in rural areas stunt the social upward mobility of the people in these areas, choking economic activity.

The government needs to fix its crumbling infrastructure and transport systems to not hijack rural people of their right to be active participants in the South African economy.

It is only by growing the country’s economy that we can help generate the resources that will allow those who are at the bottom of the social ladder to slowly but surely climb up to realise their own dreams at greater heights.

Given Majola is a reporter at Business Report. Majola is passionate about agriculture and socio-economic impacts in South Africa.