Dark, treacherous road to school
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