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Pupils forced to walk up to 9km over flooded roads, unsafe fields and degraded bridges to get to school

Residents from Lebonkeng in rural Northern Cape have expressed frustration at the Department of Education and Joe Morolong Municipality’s failure to provide transport for pupils.

They say pupils walk as far as 9km over flooded roads, unsafe fields, and degraded bridges to get to school. With schools opening on Wednesday, residents say they fear for their safety.

“We wrote to the municipality and Department of Education but got no reply,” said Tobogo Etshegang, a local resident.

READ: Learners use field as toilet: ‘Our children are not safe’, says worried mom

The provision of pupil transport was initially the responsibility of the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison but was transferred to the Department of Education in 2018.

According to the provincial department’s website, it provided transport to more than 24 000 pupils from 267 schools and employ 224 transport operators.

‘Real concern for the area’

Thapelo Sesing, ward councillor for Lebonkeng in the Joe Morolong Municipality, said pupil transport was a “real concern for the area”, adding the province had sidelined pupil transport, often not showing up for meetings on the issue.

According to Sesing, road maintenance was in such a bad state that operators could not reach many of the children.

“Since the inception of pupil transport, the service providers have not been assisted by the department,” he said, adding operators also complained they were not being paid enough.

The Northern Cape Department of Education’s spokesperson, Geoffrey van der Merwe, told GroundUp that “an application for this route [in Lebonkeng] was submitted in 2017”.

He says back then pupil transport was still managed by the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison.

“At that time, there were a number of applications for routes that were submitted to it, but were never approved,” Van der Merwe said. This was before the mandate shifted to the Department of Education in 2018, he added.

This has left areas like Lebonkeng without access to pupil transport.

Van der Merwe said the department had “informed our district office to request emergency approval for this route” and this “will ensure that learners can be transported from January 15, 2020”.

The Joe Morolong Municipality communications office did not respond to questions but said pupil transport was not part of its mandate.

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