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
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