Sunday Times

No bridge over troubled water for Qoloqolo children


● For grade 2 pupil Asanda and many of his peers, getting to school is a perilous ordeal, as they’re forced to cross the “deadly” Mtwalume River.

Pupils have to undress and carry their clothes and school bags out of reach of the water, which comes above their knees and in some cases their waists.

Asanda’s school is about 4km from his home. The river, at about 50m wide, is one of the biggest in the province.

“We see the president and ministers opening bridges in other areas and we wonder when our time will come,” said Asanda’s mother, Zandile Shabane, 39.

“Our children struggle daily and that has been the case for decades now. I have to wake up at 5am, and by 6am Asanda must have crossed the river. I will have him on my shoulders along with his bags, and I will feel the current on my legs. He is brave enough to cross the river on his own, but when it rains I must carry him. When I’m not feeling well I have to ask someone else to help him cross.”

Shabane said that for many parents helping their children cross the river was a daily routine as it was dangerous, especially for children younger than 10.

She said that after heavy rains pupils cannot attend school for weeks while they wait for the river to subside.

“Even after 30 years of democracy we remain neglected and poor. We are not asking for much, we are not asking for clean water — we don’t have that — or for tar roads. We only want a proper bridge so our children can go to school.

“After it rains our children miss out a lot. This year we have already had incidents where they did not attend school for days — and we are not even close to the rainy season [April to July] when we experience massive downpours.”

Shabane said those who can move to areas with better service delivery, leaving behind their ancestral land and graves.

A local crèche, which had about 67 children, closed down because of the danger of crossing the river for the little ones.

On Thursday, at the opening of the National House of Traditiona­l and Khoi-San Leaders in parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the Welisizwe Rural Bridges programme co-ordinated by the department of public works & infrastruc­ture was an example of “positive and meaningful change being brought to rural areas”.

“To witness the difference these bridges are making in the lives of rural communitie­s, especially for young learners who need to cross rivers to get to school, is remarkable,” he said.

Last month the president opened a Bailey steel bridge built in the remote Ngilanyoni area of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands by the army.

But for the Qoloqolo community, the wait continues.

Mbongeni Myende’s son was lucky to survive after he was swept away while crossing the river to get to school in 2019. The boy, who was 10 at the time, broke an arm and a rib.

“He was lucky to survive but was injured badly because he got smashed on rocks,” Myende said.

Local induna Mfaso Myede said the community’s living conditions had not improved and had been unsafe since his parents moved into the area in the early 1970s.

Myede said that over the years, especially before a general or local government election, several political leaders would visit and promise to build a bridge.

“Authoritie­s know our situation. That is evident because whenever they want to relate to us during their campaigns, they speak about providing a bridge for us. But after the elections they are gone, and we hear from them five years later with the same topic,” he said.

Myede said the community saw no good reason to vote in the upcoming elections.

“What difference it’s going to make?” he asked. “For how long do we have to see our children dropping out of school because of the difficulti­es of getting there? When someone dies and the river is full we have to wait for days until the water subsides before we can carry the body across the river with a blanket or stretcher.

“It’s the same when someone is sick or in labour. Once they are across an ambulance or hearse can then transport them to mortuaries or hospitals. That’s the sad reality of those who live in rural communitie­s and are forgotten.”

Mzumbe municipal spokespers­on Sabelo Ncwane said the municipali­ty was aware of the community’s outcry but could not afford to build a bridge.

Ncwane said they had engaged with the provincial transport department because once a bridge was built it would lead to three roads, two of which would fall under them.

“The situation is indeed serious and concerning,” he said

The provincial transport department did not respond to questions.

 ?? Pictures: Sandile Ndlovu ?? Asanda Shabane, 6, crosses Mthwalume River on his way home from school at Qoloqolo village in KwaZulu-Natal.
Pictures: Sandile Ndlovu Asanda Shabane, 6, crosses Mthwalume River on his way home from school at Qoloqolo village in KwaZulu-Natal.
 ?? ?? Pupils have to cross the Mtwalume River on their way home from school.
Pupils have to cross the Mtwalume River on their way home from school.

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