The horrific accident that claimed the lives of five children has put a spotlight on the issue of learner transport in the country.
The driver of the car that collided with a bus, claiming the lives of his five young passengers will appear at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. Mninikhaya Mvuli is facing five charges of culpable homicide and reckless driving. The 55-year-old is said to have been driving without a scholar transport licence, has been in and out of court since the accident and is expected to appear in court again on the 15th of June for a bail hearing.
The primary school learners have all been laid to rest and memorial services have been organised by their schools. One of the services Elitsha attended was that of Katlego Banga, an 8-year-old doing Grade 2 at Wespoort Primary School. The memorial service was tearful and filled with emotions as the school paid tribute to Katlego. “The loss of a child is a tragedy that no one should ever have to face,” said Wespoort Primary principal, Malika Ismail-Meyer.
Katlego’s aunt, Mildred Mdukiswa, said Katlego had just changed to Mvuli’s transport service in April. “We don’t blame the driver, it was just an accident. We as a family forgive him,” she said.
According to a senior lawyer at Equal Education Law Centre, Tarryn Cooper-Bell, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) policy on learner transport is silent on the private transportation of learners to and from school and therefore does nothing to protect the safety and rights of learners using privately provided transport.
“Concerningly, the current WCED learner transport policy only applies to learners attending school in rural areas and allows the MEC discretion to implement temporary learner transport schemes in urban areas. This means that thousands of learners attending schools in urban areas of the Western Cape are excluded from being able to access WCED provided transport regardless of their circumstances and whether they can afford other modes of transport to enable them to attend schools. This places these learners at the mercy of private transport providers and the public transport system,” said Cooper-Bell.
Western Cape Scholar Transport Association (WCSTA) chairperson, Chumani Ngxumza said that if all transport drivers were in the association, they could cooperate to minimise the risk of accidents. “The driver who was ferrying those students was not part of the association,” he said. For many drivers with their own car, ferrying students is an easy way to make money.
Ngxumza said that even though all accidents cannot be prevented, they can be minimised. WCSTA holds weekly meetings to discuss routes to minimise accidents and ways to ensure safety of the children. “We even reprimand each other, if a driver in the association is seen driving recklessly; there are disciplinary actions we take against them,” said Ngxumza.
According to the department of mobility, anyone who is transporting children has the weighty responsibility to keep them safe. Their vehicles must be roadworthy and they must be qualified with the operating licence required to transport passengers. Cutting corners with any of these requirements and driving recklessly is toying with life.
“The Western Cape Mobility Department is working hard to ensure that children get to school safely. Our team from the provincial regulatory entity (PRE) conducts regular outreach interventions to offer training and assistance focused on learner transport.” The PRE is said to be available to assist those who wish to apply for an operating licence to transport learners. For an application, they can be contacted on 02-483-0270 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.