In Nquthu, KwaZulu-Natal thousands of learners walk long and dangerous routes to school each morning. Despite having the greatest need for scholar transport in the country, the KZN government spends less than almost any other province.

Equal Education (EE) has an active student membership and campaign organisers working in rural Nquthu. In November 2014 and January 2015, these organisers were joined by EE and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) staff on a visit to 13 schools in the area. The purpose of these visits was to investigate and record the plight of learners who have no choice but to walk long and often dangerous routes to get to school every day. Learners, parents, teachers and principals gave accounts of the harsh circumstances and effects of the lack of scholar transport, and of learners having to walk distances to school of between 3km and 12km in one direction.

Many learners, including primary school learners must leave home before 6:30am in order to arrive at school on time. On route to school they have to traverse mountainous terrain and rivers, conditions which are exacerbated during rainy days and lightning storms. Some learners also described their experiences and fears of being robbed, kidnapped, raped and sexually assaulted while walking to school. Others described the dangers of having to cross rivers after heavy rains – at least one learner and teacher have died through drowning in recent years under these circumstances.

Teachers and principals at the schools we visited also complained of having to teach learners who are hungry and exhausted after their long walk to school, and who struggle to concentrate or stay awake in class. They attributed high incidences of late coming, absenteeism and learners dropping out to the lack of scholar transport. Some described how there would be as low as 5% – 10% attendance on days of heavy rains or lightning storms, particularly during the summer rainfall season. It is also difficult to conduct extra lessons for learners when they still have to make the long journey home after school.

At the end of our visit in January, we met with the Director of the Umzinyathi education district, under which Nquthu falls, who informed us that only 15 out of the more than 500 schools in this district were currently receiving scholar transport, due to a lack of budget.

KZN Scholar Transport Grossly Underfunded

These challenges are not unique to learners in the Nquthu area. The Kwazulu-Natal province has the highest proportion of learners in the country who walk to school, as well as the highest number of learners who walk to school for than an hour. The National Household Survey published by Statistics South Africa, in 2013, states that in Kwazulu-Natal alone, there are more than 2 million (primary and secondary school) learners who walk all the way to school. Of these learners, more than 210 000 walk for more than an hour (in one direction), while a further 659 000 learners walk for between 30min – 1 hour.
It is shocking that against these figures, only 22 045 learners in KZN are being provided with transport services (as confirmed in Parliament by the Minister of Transport in November 2014). Despite KZN having the greatest demand for learner transport, it currently spends less than all other provinces on scholar transport with the exception of only the Free State, Limpopo and Northern Cape provinces (although the Northern Cape still provides transport to more learners than Kwazulu-Natal). In the 2013/2014 financial year, the Kwazulu-Natal government budgeted a meager R 125 million for scholar transport, compared to R 336 million budgeted by the Eastern Cape government, which has the second highest number of learners walking to school.

The Situation Nationally

The lack of scholar transport also affects thousands of learners in other parts of the country too. Together with the figures provided by the Minister of Transport cited above, nationally there are only 360 248 learners benefitting from scholar transport programmes; while more than half a million ( 517 000) learners walk for more than an hour on their way to school, with a further 2 million learners walk for between 30min – 1 hour to get to school.

The Constitutional Right to a Basic Education and Scholar Transport

The right of everyone to a basic education, as guaranteed by Section 29 of the Constitution, includes to right to access school. The ability of learners to access education is severely limited where they are forced to walk long and dangerous routes to school, and where the state fails to provide reasonable alternatives.

No national policy on Scholar Transport

The need to adopt a national scholar transport policy has been raised in Parliament as far back as 2007. At that time, Parliament’s Research Unit produced a report highlighting the extent of the problem and the detrimental effects on learners who walk such long distances to school. The report specifically noted the disproportionate effects of the lack of transport on rural learners in poor households, and raised the need for a national policy on scholar transport.

In 2009 the Department of Transport published the Final Draft National Scholar Transport Policy. Since then the Ministers of Transport and Basic Education have consistently reported in the media and to Parliament that the policy is soon to be finalised and adopted, but this has yet to come to fruition.

In 2013 the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Education adopted its own policy on Scholar Transport (in 2013), much in line with the draft national policy. However, the failure to allocate a reasonable budget for the implementation of this programme renders the policy of little value.

Recently, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Appropriations recommended that:

“National Treasury, in consultation with the Department of Basic Education and with the assistance of the Financial and Fiscal Commission, consider the formulation and development of a conditional grant for the provision of scholar transport.”

Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre therefore demand:

  1. he provision of scholar transport to the schools in Nquthu, who are in urgent need of this service.
  2. The proper implementation of the KZN Scholar Transport Policy and a much greater budget to be allocated towards this programme in the province.
  3. The adoption of a national policy on Scholar Transport, as well as a conditional grant from Treasury which will allow for the comprehensive provision of scholar transport across the country

For more information, please contact:

Nombulelo Nyathela (Equal Education Spokesperson): 060 503 4933
Sandile Ndlovu (Equal Education Organiser in Nquthu, KZN): 072 802 7584
Sherylle Dass (Equal Education Law Centre): 076 223 3674
Dmitri Holtzman (Equal Education Law Centre): 082 733 5000

Note: Journalists wanting high resolution photos from EE and EELC work in this area should contact Sherylle Dass on sherylle@eelawcentre.org.za.