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Cape Town – At least 7 000 learners in the province were stranded yesterday after their transport services came to a halt.

Service providers for learners downed tools because of grievances over contract negotiations with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

The learners were unable to attend school because many parents had not been warned about the strike.

Women on Farms Project programme officer Chaleen Arendse said learners across the Cape Winelands had been left waiting for transport that never arrived.

“Nobody was informed, and parents who were able to arrange transport to school did not do so, because how would their children get home?” asked Arendse.

She said that for many parents alternative transport could cost anything from R400 a month, which many could not afford.

A more worrying trend was the condition of the transport, said Arendse.

Dawid Kamfer, of Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa, said he had been inundated with calls from concerned parents, as far as ­Riversdal in the Southern Cape.

He said drivers were striking over disputes over contracts and a tender being advertised by the WCED.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department was informed late on Monday that the South African Small Bus Operators Council (Sansboc) would suspend all learner transport services under its council.

“We have yet to collate numbers from all circuits across the province. In Metro East, Metro North and West Coast District, pupils from 40 schools were affected, with absenteeism levels of more than 7000 pupils.

“Some as young as five were left stranded on dark and dangerous roads this morning,” said Hammond.

Hammond said the WCED had yet to receive statistics from schools across the Cape Winelands and the Eden and Karoo districts, therefore the number of absent pupils could be higher.

She said Sansboc’s main complaint related to the WCED’s advertising short-term contracts.

Hammond said the WCED wrote to Sansboc’s lawyers to explain the reasons for the short-term pupil transport contracts, and that five-year contracts had been advertised until the end of October, leaving potential service providers ample time to prepare bids.

Sansboc spokesperson Pravin Singh said the strike was a last resort to bring the WCED to the negotiating table.

“This was the only way for us to get them to the table in order to explain how their five-year and ad hoc tenders were flawed and would be detrimental to operators.

“Despite the WCED not agreeing to withdraw the tender, we have decided not to let pupils suffer tomorrow,” said Singh.

Singh said Sansboc had instructed lawyers to review the tender documentation.

Cape Times