Government's failure to build bridges leaves KZN pupils stranded
A study was conducted by the department in 2006 to identify areas where pupils and teachers struggled to get to schools during heavy rains.
Eleven districts in the province, including eThekwini, uMgungundlovu and uThukela, were identified as needing 471 pedestrian bridges.
The three districts were supposed to have had 36, 26 and 66 bridges built respectively.
According to a report tabled at a recent transport portfolio committee meeting at the provincial legislature, the department has only built 116 bridges from the 2006/7 to 2018/19 financial years. It is unclear how many were built for the three districts during this time.
Other districts identified were Ilembe, requiring 51 bridges, King Cetshwayo (118), Harry Gwala (19), uMkhanyakude (12), Amajuba (13), uMzinyathi (53), Ugu (52) and Zululand District, with 25 bridges.
Some of the bridges changed to vehicular bridges after detailed analysis identified that there was a need for vehicle crossing as well, according to the report.
Last week, Transport MEC Bheki Ntuli announced that the department had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Premier’s Office, Department of Public Works and the SANDF that would increase the construction of bridges, especially for pupils. Ntuli said the partnership would accelerate the provision of Bailey bridges (portable, pre-fabricated truss structures).
Sharon Hoosen, the DA’s provincial spokesperson for transport, said the report meant that thousands of children living in rural communities would have to continue risking their lives by crossing often dangerous rivers in order to receive an education.
“Then there is the recent embarrassment that must have been caused by the resurfacing of a media article from 2011, depicting KZN school children forced to cross the swollen uMzinyathi River, near Dundee. It is nothing short of shocking that more than 25 years after democracy, some children are still being denied safe access to schools - an issue that is compounded by the poor implementation of subsidised pupil transport in KZN,” Hoosen said. “The DA is deeply concerned by this finding.”
Blessed Gwala, the IFP spokesperson for community safety and liaison, said the delays in transport projects were deliberate.
“While we understand the enormous work done by the department, and taking into account the huge budget allocated to it, it is a concern that its procurement processes are poor.
“This is questionable because there are no backlogs in salary payments, so why should there be any on service delivery? The department needs to take the services it provides seriously,” Gwala said.
Department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane rubbished the DA’s criticism, saying it lacked accuracy. Ncalane said the report referred to was hastily put together as it was requested at short notice.
“The statement sent by the DA is misleading, because the 116 bridges excluded the vehicular bridges that were built in some areas during the same period.
“Co-operative Governance and the municipalities have also built bridges and those are excluded in the 116,” he said.
“There is no crisis as they make out, because in some areas where there are no bridges we provide transport for pupils, and in 2014 to 2019 we have delivered 15000 bicycles as another way of making it conducive for pupils to get to school. In the same period, 84 bridges were built,” Ncalane said.
Additional reporting by Thobeka Ngema