- The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education has said the school transport issue was not responsible for the deaths of 19 students who died in the horror truck crash in Pongola last week.
- But Equal Education has warned that the private vehicles used to transport students do not always meet the necessary safety requirements.
- The organization has campaigned for seven years for safe school transport in KwaZulu-Natal, where tens of thousands of people lack access to adequate transport.
Equal Education says students in KwaZulu-Natal will remain vulnerable due to a lack of safe and appropriate school transport, leaving tens of thousands of children exposed to crime and traffic accidents daily.
This follows a horrific lorry accident last Friday on the N2 in Pongola which claimed the lives of 19 pupils and one adult, who were traveling in a bakkie.
The students were aged 5 to 12 years old.
The truck driver, Sibusiso Siyaya, 28, reportedly veered into the oncoming lane while passing another truck and crashed into the bakkie.
On Monday afternoon, the only remnants of the horror crash were abandoned school shoes strewn about the scene.
On Monday, the parents were still too distraught to speak to the media.
Between meetings with a government official, sad and frustrated parents faced the daunting task of planning their children’s funerals.
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Equal Education researcher Kimberley Khumalo warned on Tuesday that school transport in the province was in a terrible state.
Highlighting an article published in 2017 that referenced tragic private taxi and bakkie accidents that occurred with students on board, Khumalo pointed out that the state was failing in its duty to provide safe school transportation and that parents were obligated to to use private transport services which not only incur additional costs. are expensive for them, but are also dangerous.
Time and again, these private vehicles fail to meet necessary safety requirements and are more difficult to regulate and monitor, putting learners’ lives at risk.
Although school transport has been one of the crucial issues in education in KwaZulu-Natal since 2014, the head of the province’s education department, Nkosinathi Ngcobo, argued that the case was not the cause tragic deaths in Pongola on Friday.
“In the context of the accident that happened, we have to clarify that it is not related to student transport,” Ngcobo said.
He said the department provides transportation for just over 60,000 students, but demand is well over 100,000.
“In other words, there are students who deserve student transportation but they don’t get it due to the budget constraints the department faces,” Ngcobo said.
The most basic form of school transport policy states that a student should not have to travel more than 5 km to get to school.
In 2020, Equal Education won a High Court skirmish against the Department of Education, forcing it to publish a draft school transport policy for public comment. In July 2021, the policy came into effect.
At the time, Equal Education said a provincial policy was essential to clarify the responsibilities of the ministries of education and transport to “enable rigorous planning, including data collection and budgeting, and to ensure implementation”.
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Ngcobo said on Monday that due to the vastness and topography of the province, “you find that there are a number of students who are eligible to get student transportation but don’t get it in because of the budgetary problems that we are facing as a government”.
“With what we have, we try to add [more] bus, but we can’t do much with the budget we have.
“Some students, of course, use their own private transport. The accident that just happened is an example of this where the transport used by the learners was arranged privately between the car owner and the parents of the learners. .
“Accidents that happen affect us as an industry, so we’re calling on road users to respect the rules of the road, not to overtake where you’re not allowed,” he said. he adds.
Political will to change the budget
But Khumalo had a different view. She said that solutions exist and all that is needed is to implement them.
She said the implementation of the National Learner Transport Policy in 2015 and the KZN Learner Transport Policy were key to reducing transport problems.
“However, the implementation of these policies requires that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) as well as the education department of KZN have the necessary political will and sense of urgency.
“Departments of Education must ensure that relevant stakeholders carry out their mandates in accordance with policies and prioritize the safe transport of learners.”
The KwaZulu-Natal transport department should also carry out its operational duties, Khumalo said, adding that the department should ensure that the roads and vehicles used by the students were safe.
“Where it is necessary, [they should] implement an efficient public transport system, especially in rural communities where parents are often forced to risk the safety of their children or incur additional costs to transport learners in the absence of learner transport. »
She said the provincial treasury must also “play its part in prioritizing this program”.
For example, in the financial year 2021/22, the KZN Education Department said it needed a budget of at least R950 million to cover the shortfall of qualified learners who do not have access to transport for learners as well as to avoid overloading vehicles. which are currently provided.
“However, funding for school transport has only increased by R2m this financial year, compared to the R457m allocated in 2021/22.
“Without prioritizing the learner transport scheme, there is no guarantee that tragic incidents like this will not happen again. The government needs to implement its policies urgently.”
Khumalo said that during Equal Education’s school transport campaign, pupils in Nquthu, rural KwaZulu-Natal, testified that they risked their lives in their daily journey to and from school.
“[They are] walking arduous distances to and from school, often over difficult and dangerous terrain – in high heat or rain, and being vulnerable to theft and sexual assault, which identified the urgent need for transportation school in KZN.”
According to Equal Education, in KwaZulu-Natal the school transport crisis is much greater than in other provinces, the 2020 National Household Travel Survey by Stats SA shows that:
-1.9 million learners walk to school every day in KZN, the highest proportion of students in South Africa
Among these students:
-152,000 walk more than an hour (one way), 68,000 less than in 2014 when the Equal Education campaign started;
-712,500 steps over 30 minutes
Khumalo said the need for school transportation increases every year.
“Last year, there were 117,000 learners on the waiting list of the KZN education department, and this year there are 157,000 learners,” she said.