Her only path out of poverty is the

At 4.50am a 15-year-old girl gets ready for school. She ar­rives at 7.26am, late but safe – this time

Mail & Guardian - - News - Bongek­ile Macupe

This morn­ing, be­fore the sun rises, when the cold is at its most bit­ing, a girl in her school uni­form will en­ter the ter­ror. He’s there. Lurk­ing in the donga. Per­haps around the next bend or trough. They feed here, you see. The rapist. The killer.

Nokuthemba Sikhakhane saw the ter­ror once in the man­gled body of a six-year-old. It runs through her en­tire body as she trudges this too fa­mil­iar road, this peril that must be met to get any­where.

It is 4.50am on a cold win­ter morn­ing and Nokuthemba is al­ready up and pre­par­ing for school.

She boils two ket­tles of wa­ter and pours the wa­ter into two wash­ing basins for her and her nine-year-old cousin, Bongiwe Mthembu. The two then dis­ap­pear into the bath­room where they take a bath.

Mo­ments later the pair are seated on plas­tic chairs in the kitchen and eat­ing break­fast. Bis­cuits and tea.

When they are done, the 15-yearold washes the two cups. She fixes her bub­bly cousin’s tie, checks that all her books are in or­der and goes to her par­ent’s bed­room to tell them that she is leav­ing for school.

At 6.10am, it’s still dark out­side and Nokuthemba sets off.

This is a daily rou­tine for the grade 10 pupil at Ng­wane High School in Vu­mankala vil­lage in Nquthu, north­ern KwaZulu-Natal. Her school is one on a list of 12 schools in Nquthu that form part of an ap­pli­ca­tion at the high court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg by lobby group Equal Ed­u­ca­tion, which wants the pro­vin­cial de­part­ments of ed­u­ca­tion and trans­port to provide trans­port for pupils who are far from school.

In its court pa­pers filed in March, the or­gan­i­sa­tion ar­gues that by not pro­vid­ing schol­ars with trans­port the depart­ment has vi­o­lated the pupils’ rights to ed­u­ca­tion.

Nokuthemba does not know much about scholar trans­port. What she does know is that she has no choice but to walk to school.

“I’m scared. But I’m forced to walk,” she says.

Some days she joins a group of pupils who also walk to school. But most days she walks alone to make it to school by 7am, be­cause school starts at 7:15am.

Dressed in her green skirt, white shirt and green jer­sey, she lets out a sigh be­fore an­swer­ing how she sur­vives on cold days. “Eish! It’s my re­al­ity. At home they can’t af­ford to pay for trans­port so I’m forced to walk. When it’s too cold I wear warmer clothes that are not part of the uni­form,” she says.

Bakkies and taxis that ferry pupils to school in the area charge between R300 to R350 a month. The only in­come for the home is her fa­ther’s gov­ern­ment old age pen­sion of R1 600. It has to be stretched to buy food, elec­tric­ity and also take care of other house­hold needs.

“When it rains I carry an um­brella but there are rivers here and, even though there is a bridge, the river gets so full that you can’t cross the river and when that hap­pens I’m forced to stay at home.

Some­times I can be at home for a week when the river is full,” she says.

When it is rain­ing she is usu­ally soak­ing wet by the time she gets to school. “When I’m wet I go sit in the kitchen where they al­ways have the stove on and take off my clothes to let them dry and that means I lose out on the lessons,” she says.

When she was at Hlinzeka Pri­mary School her older sis­ter, who worked as a clerk at the school, used to pay for her trans­port. Nokuthemba’s world came crum­bling down in 2015 when she was in grade 8 and her sis­ter died.

Hlinzeka is next to Ng­wane. The schools are sep­a­rated by a fence. The pri­mary school is also part of Equal Ed­u­ca­tion’s court ap­pli­ca­tion.

“It was hard losing her be­cause she was my sup­port struc­ture and now I’m dis­tracted. Even at school my marks have dropped, I al­ways think about her. Some­times I get to school

A 15-year-old’s school day: Nokuthemba Sikhakhane heats up wa­ter so that she and her cousin Bongiwe Mthembu can wash. Then she pre­pares break­fast. Nokuthemba must walk to

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