Running the gauntlet to school is no longer a danger for some children in gang-infested Mitchells Plain thanks to an innovative ‘walking bus’ initiative implemented by the Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato earlier this year.
The initiative, which sees parents and grandparents volunteering to accompany groups of children to and from school, was introduced in Delft in May, and expanded to include the Mitchells Plain areas of Lentegeur and Beacon Valley in June.
More than 100 volunteers have joined the initiative as ‘drivers’ of the ‘bus’ in Mitchells Plain, ensuring the safety of learners from eight primary and high schools. Volunteers walk along a set route in the morning, picking up children along the way and ensuring that they are not harassed or attacked and that they cross busy intersections safely. They are accompanied by volunteers from visible policing and the neighbourhood watch.
Some volunteers form the protective ‘bus’ while others act as scholar patrols at busy intersections where there are no traffic calming measures such as robots or pedestrian crossings.
“Active citizenship, such as participation in the walking bus initiative by parents, or participation in a neighbourhood watch, is a necessary step in rooting out crime from within a community,” states Plato. “Safety volunteers in any capacity have the potential to unite an entire community behind a common cause and take back ownership of a community from the criminal few hell-bent on institutionalising fear in our communities,” he said.
Once a roll call has been taken at the respective schools, any absent learners are identified and the walking bus volunteers go and check on them at their homes.
“There are parents who have given us a tough time when we fetch learners. You’d be surprised how nonchalant some parents can be, but we have been given clear instructions by the minister to get learners to school no matter the circumstances,” said treasurer and traffic attendant for the Beacon Valley walking bus, Fagmeda Jattiem. “The most important thing is ensuring that the children get a quality education. Learning can only take place if you are present,” said Jattiem, whilst ushering learners across the road.
Having informally assisted parents in getting their children to school for the past 20 years, she said the walking bus initiative should have been implemented “ages ago”.
Walking bus volunteer Toheerah Bosott said the initiative is a great relief for the community. “Walking bus volunteers are visible, which creates a sense of safety and security for both the learners and their parents.”
Junior City Councillor Milile Banzi from Spine Road High School said he fully supports the walking bus initiative as he has personal experience of being mugged and intimidated by gangsters while on the way to and from school.
“I have been robbed before so that is a huge fear of mine. My friends have been robbed too and even though I have friends who choose to associate themselves with gangsters. I believe that if we as the youth voice how we feel and take part in empowerment programmes like mentorship programmes, we can encourage the youth to stay away from gangsterism.”
Jaydene Mitchell, 13, from Liesbeeck Primary walks to school with her 12-year-old brother and said she wishes the walking bus would come to her area. “I’m afraid that we will get robbed or kidnapped on our way to school. We do not have the walking bus service at our school but if we did I will definitely join.”
The schools serviced by the walking bus are located in gang territories and children say they are often harassed by gangsters who urge them to run errands for them, or they rob them of their belongings.
“In my area the gangsters give you money or drugs to do their dirty work and they promise you nice things. They will give you a R100 and say that you have to go shoot that person,” said a Grade 5 learner at Yellowwood Primary in Tafelsig.
“When we are doing our rounds we always check in the bushes next to the school (Alpine Primary). We have found many kids hiding out there with members of the 28’s gang,” said Bosott.
Walking bus volunteers have identified at least three drug houses in Beacon Valley which school children have been known to frequent during school hours.
“Our lives are at risk when we pitch up at these houses, so we always try to approach them in a calm manner,” said walking bus coordinator Melissa Ford.
Ford said there was an incident in which “a female matric learner refused to leave the drug house and go to school with us. We then took her jersey that was lying there and reported her to the school”. It is believed the learner was suspended from school.
Jattiem said they were hoping to introduce a walking bus in Heinz Park, Mitchells Plain as the children there were “in need of discipline”.
Schools currently serviced by the walking bus in Mitchells Plain are Lentegeur High, Meadowridge Primary, Cornflower Primary, Lantana Primary, Hyacinth Primary, Beacon View Primary, AZ Berman Primary and Alpine Primary School.