KZN pupils walk due to ‘fiscal constraints’
ABOUT 90 000 school pupils in KwaZuluNatal require transport to and from school but the provincial Department of Education can only afford it for about half of them.
A department official told a sitting of the provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on basic education that “fiscus constraints” meant transport could not be provided to all pupils.
Last year activist organisation Equal Education took the department to the Pietermaritzburg high court, demanding that it provide transport for pupils at 12 schools in Nquthu.
The court ruled that the department would have to provide transport for those pupils from April 1.
A department spokesperson yesterday admitted to The Witness that there was a budget problem, but said it should be able to provide for all pupils without transport in the new financial year, which starts in April.
Mila Kakaza, a spokesperson for Equal Education, said national Department of Basic Education figures confirmed there were 90 000 pupils in need of transport in KZN, but only 47 747 pupils were provided for in the 2017/2018 financial year. This left 42 253 pupils without transport to school and back.
She said research commissioned by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) showed that 350 162 KZN pupils were in need of transport, which leaves 302 415 pupils still in the lurch.
She added, however, that the department’s data may be completely wrong.
Kakaza said: “Teachers at the schools that we work with have repeatedly spoken of how walking long distances to school means [pupils] being late and missing out on class time, and being too tired to concentrate in class.”
She said Equal Education would only consider legal action against the department if consistent lobbying yielded a poor response.
Kakaza said Equal Education was advocating a “conditional grant” system to fund pupil transport, which would ensure funds allocated to departments are used for that specific purpose.
DA spokesperson on education in the province, Dr Rishigen Viranna, claimed the department had not yet conducted a proper audit of the number of pupils in KZN, and the proportion of those who need transport. “The MEC for Education [Mthandeni Dlungwana] must take responsibility and find out how many pupils are in need of transport, then submit the audit to national department. Other provinces have done it and they now have the budget for transporting pupils to schools,” he said.
Department spokesperson Scelo Khuzwayo said: “The department is aware that scholar transport has not reached all schools yet because of the department’s budget. We are hoping to improve the number of beneficiaries as soon as our financial year commences.”