Cape Town – On their first day of school, children as young as seven had to bravely manoeuvre their way through the Great Karoo terrain yesterday, all while keeping a lookout for speeding cars along the N1, which they were forced to cross.
This after their scholar transport in Beaufort West was terminated, resulting in them walking up to 12km.
The principals of HM Dlikidla Primary School and Mandlenkosi Secondary School said many of their pupils had arrived late, or not at all, due to the transport setback.
A meeting was scheduled last night between school governing body members, parents, teachers and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).
The transport was cancelled after the WCED said it provided transport for pupils who lived more than 5km from schools, and according to their database, all the pupils lived within the required radius.
But Mandlenkosi Secondary School principal Mluleki Mangqungqa said the department was using an old map and they urgently needed to update it.
“The Hillside township is expanding rapidly and children have to walk more than 5km to get to school. They need to do their research thoroughly,” Mangqungqa said.
HM Dlikidla Primary School principal Sylvia Mbese said she was concerned about the effect the situation would have on the children’s school performance.
“Firstly the children’s health and safety is at risk. Imagine a 7-year-old who had nothing to eat for breakfast having to walk more than 10km to school, and having to cross the busy N1.
“These children are exposed to various crimes and diseases. Deployed traffic officers came late to assist. I wonder where the officers will be when children are being raped and robbed before they get to the N1.
"The department does not care about the children’s safety,” Mbese said.
Resident Edward Njadu witnessed how the minors had to walk, and described it as horrific and traumatic for the children.
He called on Education MEC Debbie Schäfer to see the pain the children were subjected to. “The situation is very inconvenient; these are small children who are still at primary school, between the ages of 7 and 8, who have to walk long distances without any supervision.
"This puts their lives at risk. They risk being raped, robbed, kidnapped or brutally murdered.
“As we speak now, there are children who did not go to school because of the long distance they have to walk. These schools will have a high drop-out rate,” said Njadu.
Parent Mary Skaarnek claimed the WCED had not consulted them regarding the cancellation of school transport.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said parents were sent letters informing them of the intention to cancel the transport, and a community meeting was held.
Hammond said when an application was originally received for the institution of a pupil transport route in Beaufort West, it was found that all the pupils who applied lived within 5km of their nearest schools.
“However, at the time, there was no bridge/s over the railway line and there were no pedestrian crossings over the N1 roadway. As a result, due to the described circumstances, approval was obtained for the institution of the route for as long as the mentioned circumstances persist.
“Upon considering the readvertisement of this route in July 2019, it was established that a pedestrian bridge had been built over the railway line and that more than one pedestrian crossing exists to cross the N1 roadway.
“As a result of the changed circumstances, the original reasons for the approval of the institution of the route no longer existed and it was established that all the learners still reside within 5km of their nearest schools.
“The learners therefore no longer qualify to be transported in accordance with the Learner Transport Policy of the WCED,” Hammond said.