Long walk to school for learners in rural Eastern Cape

According to the Department of Transport there are over 100,000 learners in the province who will be provided with scholar transport this year. Photo by Equal Education.

Ntabenkonyana learners brave bad weather and risk their lives and their futures just getting to school.

For many years learners from Ntabenkonyana Secondary School in Middledrift have been deprived of their right of access to quality education due to a lack of scholar transport. Built in the 1970s at the centre of surrounding villages in the Eastern Cape, learners at the school have not benefited from the national scholar transport policy since it was adopted in 2015. Recently, commissioner Tshepo Madlingozi of the Human Rights Commission brought the issue of scholar transport into the spotlight when he embarked on the walk to the school from nearby Mbizana.

Parents in Mbizana location who spoke to Elitsha report that their children walk distances so long to school that they often arrive late, and tired and therefore unable to concentrate fully on the lessons. Ntabenkonyana School is situated in a remote area, far from the nearest villages of Njwaxa, Ngwenya and Saki.

 “We have a big problem here: children in this location do not have transport and are forced to travel more than 10km (round trip), whether it is raining or sunny. For their transportation to school our children are depending on parents to hire private transport service providers and this poses a huge problem since almost all the parents in this location are on social grants,” said Nonkululeko Qwesha. Parents using their social grant money to pay for scholar transport are making a very tough decision where the choice is between food for the family or transport for the children.

There are water taps
but there has been no water
for many years,
and we are wholly dependent
on rain.

Qwesha revealed further that Mbizana location is struggling desperately for other services like water. “When the children are about to go to school we struggle for water and it’s difficult to get water just for children to bath themselves. We don’t have water at all in this community. There are water taps but there has been no water for many years, and we are wholly dependent on rain.” 

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The school was built in 1976 by the community according to the SGB chairperson. Photo by Anele Mbi

Another parent, and pensioner, Nolundi Notiki said that she has three children who go to Ntabenkonyana and she can never afford to pay for their transport since her family depends on her old age grant. Her relative Sibahle Notiki, a young unemployed woman, said that she was a learner at the school from 2011 until she finished in 2015 and were crying for transport all those years without any success.

Bukho Mathole, a grade 9 learner at the school is fortunate that her aunt is paying for her transport costs of R250 per month. She felt that it’s unfair since most learners who cannot afford transport have to walk for long distances. “Some learners do not concentrate in class and others in our location dropout before they finish grade 12,” said Bukho.

According to the chairperson of the school governing body (SGB), Mbuyiseli Venene, scholar transport is one among other major challenges facing the school. He spoke about fallen toilets, donated by an NGO a few years ago, but which strong winds had largely destroyed since they were of poor quality. “Sometimes on hot days learners are released earlier from the school because of lack of water. Water trucks do come to deliver water at the school but that is not enough,” said Venene, the outgoing SGB chairperson. 

The toilets at the school were donated by an NGO a few years ago but are largely unusable according to the SGB chairperson. Photo by Anele Mbi

Responding to Elitsha, the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) spokesperson, Malibongwe Mtima said scholar transport is not their function but is managed by the department of transport. Their only assistance as the education department is to provide intervention classes in affected communities to ensure there is a catch-up plan for learners who miss classes.

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Unathi Binqose, spokesperson for the Department of Transport stated that there are many schools in the province where learners are challenged finding transport. “Earlier this year we said it is going to be 90,000 learners benefiting from scholar transport, but that number has increased to 103,000. But, it will be worth noting that the demand for scholar transport is way higher than we can supply. So, there will be always that gap of learners who travel long distances and who are eligible but still unable to get. We expect to kick in after Easter in the new financial year… Let’s wait to see if the school [Ntabenkonyane] will be included in this readjustment of about 13,000 learners,” said Binqose.

An interim budget relief of R90.4-million to help the departments of transport and education provide scholar transport to learners in 2024 was approved by the province’s executive council.

Meanwhile, a children’s rights project based in Peddie, Khula Development Project has decided to go to court to force the provincial government to provide scholar transport. The case will be heard in Makhanda High Court on 2 May 2024. According to the chair of the SGB, the case was launched after the Human Rights Commission visited their school and took a walk with both the learners and members of the SGB to investigate the daily struggles faced by learners without transport. After the walk, the commissioners vowed to approach the premier of the Eastern Cape to make him aware of the scholar transport fiasco at Ntabenkonyana Secondary School.

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