Pupils of Enkovukeni Primary School test their nerves as they board a new ferry delivered by the KZN Department of Education. Pictures: Gcina Ndwalane
Durban - When Thandiwe Ngubane sees her daughter, Bawinile, off to school, she does so with mixed emotions.

“I want her to have a future, to go to university,” Ngubane says hopefully, “But I am always scared.”

Ngubane and her daughter live on the island of Enkovukeni - a small strip of green that rises from the glassy waters of one of the lakes at Kosi Bay in the dense bush of the northernmost part of KwaZulu-Natal, near the Mozambican border.

For Bawinile to get an education, she has for years had to wade through the 1km-long stretch of waist-high water that separates Enkovukeni from the mainland and the closest high school, Nhlanga.

In winter, she often came home sick from spending the day in wet clothes.

Year round, she has had to keep an eye out for the hippos and crocodiles that lurk beneath the lake’s surface.

But the provincial Department of Basic Education on Thursday launched a ferry to transport Bawinile and her neighbours to and from the mainland.

Pupils in primary school will also use the ferry to get to their school.

One 16-year-old boy said he only started school at the age of 9. “I was too scared to cross the lake,” he said.

He told of coming face to face with a hippo once, on his way to school. “But an old man came and chased it away.”

MEC Mthandeni Dlungwana said on Thursday that the affected community was small and that Enkovukeni Primary only catered to 32 pupils.

“But we can’t then say we can’t provide services to them,” he said, “Education is a right, and we have to provide.”

He also said the problem was not isolated to the area and that the department had bought eight ferries to help pupils in similar situations at 180 schools in other parts of the province.

And, Dlungwana continued, they would be allocating a further R10 million to providing this type of transport to needy pupils in the province in future.

Ngubane said the community was delighted with the new ferry service.

“We’re very grateful to the government,” she said.

But, she added, it was not enough. “What we really need is a bridge.”

The lake cuts the islanders off from more than education.

They have no electricity or running water.

“We share water from the lake with the cows,” Ngubane said, adding that when they needed groceries or building supplies, they had to cross the lake and make their way to the mainland.

“Even when someone dies, we have to get a coffin from there,” she said.

“This is my home and I dream of improving it,” Ngubane said. “But we need help.”

The Mercury