The long walk to school

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - NKU­L­ULEKO NENE

KWAZULU-NA­TAL re­mains the prov­ince with the high­est pro­por­tion of pupils who have to walk more than an hour to get to school, de­spite prom­ises by the govern­ment to fast-track the pro­vi­sion of scholar trans­port.

For most pupils in ru­ral areas such as Lady­smith, get­ting to school every morn­ing re­mains a daunt­ing task as they have to walk more than five kilo­me­tres, and usu­ally on an empty stom­ach.

Oth­ers rely on bakkies and minibus taxis, and this year alone more than 10 pupils in the prov­ince have died and at least 90 oth­ers have been in­jured us­ing these modes of trans­port.

Equal Ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Mila Kakaza said part of the rea­son some pupils who qual­i­fied for govern­ment trans­port were not get­ting it was that they had been in­cor­rectly clas­si­fied by the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion (DBE). Some pupils were clas­si­fied as at­tend­ing schools of “choice” rather than schools near­est to where they lived, and so the depart­ment did not con­sider them as qual­i­fy­ing for govern­ment trans­port.

“Such learn­ers would not be con­tained within a DBE as­sess­ment of the need for scholar trans­port. We have been call­ing for ac­cess to safe and ad­e­quate scholar trans­port in KZN since 2014, af­ter pupils in the Nquthu area raised it as a se­ri­ous bar­rier to ac­cess­ing ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

Kakaza said teach­ers and prin­ci­pals com­plained of hav­ing to teach pupils who were hun­gry and ex­hausted af­ter their long walk to school.

“As a re­sult, learn­ers strug­gle to con­cen­trate or stay awake in class. They at­tribute the high in­ci­dence of late-com­ing, ab­sen­teeism and learn­ers drop­ping out of school to the lack of scholar trans­port.” A few lucky pupils were re­cently given bi­cy­cles to ride to school, but Kwazulu-na­tal has the high­est num­ber of pupils who have to walk more than an hour to school be­cause of a lack of scholar trans­port.

He said a lack of trans­port also led to poor school at­ten­dance on days of heavy rains or light­ning storms, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer rain­fall sea­son.

“Walk­ing long dis­tances also comes with safety risks; learn­ers who walk long dis­tances to school are also vul­ner­a­ble to theft and sex­ual vi­o­lence,” Kakaza said.

Lungile Makawula, a Grade 8 pupil at Lady­smith’s In­gula High, has to walk about 12km to school every morn­ing from her home in Besters.

She was for­tu­nate that last week she was among 975 chil­dren from the area who were given bi­cy­cles by the lo­cal Eskom plant in In­gula, to make the jour­ney to school more bear­able.

Un­til Tues­day Makawula had to get up at 4am to do the house chores, in­clud­ing feed­ing the four fam­ily dogs and clean­ing the home she lives in with her 59-year-old gogo, Mavis Khu­malo.

She pre­pared for school while a pot of mealie por­ridge sim­mered on the fire and on days she was late she would grab a few slices of bread, if they had had money to buy it the day be­fore, to munch on the 1 hour 45 minute-walk to school.

Be­fore leav­ing her home daily, she would warmly hug her granny – the only par­ent she has ever known.

Her par­ents died while she was an in­fant. First, her mother died a month af­ter Makawula was born, then her fa­ther died be­fore she could even walk 14 years ago.

The wind­ing, de­serted gravel road, which cuts through hills and val­leys, can be dan­ger­ous for chil­dren who walk alone, so they walk in groups.

The sandy road is of­ten filled with dust and Makawula said that caused headaches that made it dif­fi­cult for her to con­cen­trate in class.

“This one time I coughed and sneezed so badly, I thought I was dy­ing, be­fore a friend of­fered me a glass of wa­ter,” she re­called. She said by the time she ar­rived at school she was of­ten tired and hun­gry. Still, she said she was grate­ful that she had teach­ers who were pa­tient with the pupils who they knew came from far-flung areas.

De­spite the chal­lenges, Lungisile’s dream of be­com­ing a nurse re­mains strong and get­ting a bi­cy­cle to ride to school has made her more de­ter­mined.

“With this gift, no dream is im­pos­si­ble to achieve. I am ac­tu­ally rid­ing my way to suc­cess. There will be no late-com­ing to school from now on,” she said with a gig­gle.

Un­for­tu­nately her peer Andiswa Maz­ibuko, 16, did not get a bi­cy­cle even though she qual­i­fied for one. The Grade 10 pupil, who also goes to In­gula, said it took her close to two hours to walk from her home in Bur­ford. “I am heart­bro­ken I could not get a bi­cy­cle. I was told I would ben­e­fit in the next roll-out but I am not con­vinced. For­tune comes once in a life­time,” she said.

KZN Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Sihle Mlotshwa said the govern­ment had not been able to pro­vide trans­port to all the af­fected schools be­cause of a short­age of funds.

“We are do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to at­tend to the needs of our learn­ers,” he said.

“As for learn­ers drop­ping out be­cause of a lack of learner trans­port, in the ab­sence of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence to back that claim, we won’t be in a po­si­tion to com­ment.”

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