Dark, treach­er­ous road to school

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late and I think that if she was alive she would be pay­ing for my trans­port and I would ar­rive on time at school,” she says.

We walk for about 20 min­utes and there were still no pupils on the dark, dusty gravel road. A thick mist lies over this land of val­leys, vis­i­bil­ity re­duced to no more than 5m ahead.

A man sud­denly ap­pears, go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

“If I was walk­ing alone and saw this man, my first thought would be: ‘He is go­ing to rape or kid­nap me.’ Th­ese are the thoughts I walk around with all the time when go­ing or com­ing to school. I fear that I will be kid­napped, raped or forced into a car. Some­one can drag me into the val­leys and rape me or kill me; that is my re­al­ity,” she says.

Along this road there are no houses, only bushes and val­leys. She says she is for­tu­nate that noth­ing has hap­pened to her yet.

Oth­ers have not been so lucky. “Last year a grade 2 pupil from the pri­mary school was knocked down by a car and died.” Nokuthemba shuts her eyes, fight­ing back tears.

“I saw it hap­pen. It crushed him. Even to­day I can still see that pic­ture in my head. He was about to cross the road, he didn’t see the car and it was windy and it hit him and he died,” she says.

She also tells a story of a grade 6 pupil who was raped in one of the val­leys last year. The child ended up drop­ping out of school.

“Many chil­dren dropped out of school af­ter that in­ci­dent be­cause they feared that the same thing would hap­pen to them. I live with the fear in­side me that any minute any­thing can hap­pen to me. I only have peace of mind when schools are closed,” she said.

Nokuthemba sticks with school, say­ing the poverty in her home kept her go­ing.

“Things can really get tough at home and some­times I think: ‘What would hap­pen if my dad were to die? Who would look af­ter us?’ That is why we have to study, even if the sit­u­a­tion is tough. My fa­ther wants us to get an ed­u­ca­tion be­cause he did not go far with his school­ing.

“So I’m study­ing be­cause I want to up­grade my fam­ily’s stan­dards and provide a bet­ter life for my par­ents,” she said.

Nokuthemba wants to be a teacher or a so­cial worker, but she is wor­ried about her stud­ies.

“This thing really hurts me se­ri­ously. I can’t con­cen­trate at all on my stud­ies be­cause I al­ways think about what might hap­pen to me when I’m walk­ing to school in the morn­ing or af­ter­noon be­cause some­times I at­tend af­ter­noon classes. And I al­ways get to school tired and it’s hard for my brain to fo­cus and I only start pay­ing at­ten­tion dur­ing the last pe­riod be­fore break,” she said.

At 7.17am Nokuthemba was still on her way to school, still walk­ing. She is late. Ng­wane High School is the near­est school to her.

Her cousin Bongiwe trav­els to school by bakkie. Her mother pays for her trans­port. Hlinzekani is also the near­est pri­mary school.

Pupils who are not as lucky as Bongiwe also walk to school.

Up ahead we see pupils as young as six on the same long walk.

If there was a school bus, “life would be much eas­ier. I would get to school on time and even when it rains I would not be wor­ried,” Nokuthemba says.

She fi­nally ar­rives at school at 7.26am: one hour and 16 min­utes later.

school but Bongiwe goes by bakkie be­cause her mother pays for trans­port. Nokuthemba walks home but stud­ies hard in the hope of es­cap­ing the poverty trap.

Weath­ered: In win­ter the early morn­ing is cold and grey. In sum­mer it rains and the river floods. Nokuthemba ar­rives at school drenched

Pho­tos: Del­wyn Verasamy

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