Pupils from 12 schools in KwaZulu-Natal – who brave the weather and crime on their long walk to school every day – will pack into the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday morning to support their lawyers who will argue that the provincial government must provide transport for them.
The case has been launched by Equal Education (EE) on their behalf because, it says, scholar transport is a crucial component of their right to basic education.
Head of National Organising Luyolo Mazwembe says EE has been working on the issue – which not only affects learners at the schools in the Nquthu area but others around the country – for two years which resulted in the #LongWalkToSchool campaign.
“The lack of transport is a serious barrier to accessing education. They arrive late and are unable to focus,” Mazwembe said.
In written arguments filed with the court, advocates Andrea Gabriel, SC, and Deborah Ainslie say the remedy sought includes a declaration of the violation of the pupils’ rights and a “structural interdict” seeking to compel the relevant government departments to ensure there is proper planning and budgeting for scholar transport.
“It is simply not enough for these departments to assert there is no money… .as with the supply of textbooks and school furniture, being able to get to school and attend classes is the core component of the right to basic education,” they argue.
“It is common cause that there is a dire and urgent need for this. The respondents’ affidavits are replete with examples of the vast distances, the harm, dangers and problems experienced… . these common cause facts support our stance.”
They cited examples of students being raped, drowning, walking through forests, being struck by lightning, assaulted and murdered.
“It ought to be a simple exercise for each school at the start of the academic year to determine the need including the learner’s age and health, the distance walked, the terrain, the risks and the family’s financial ability.
“And yet there is an absence of any proper data and there does not appear to be any realistic and concerted co-operation between the departments responsible for education, transport and finance.”
Children with disabilities
The government, however, insists that it has a transport policy and is complying with it.
“Currently there are more than 47 000 beneficiaries and we are working on a four-year programme targeting 80 000 learners in the 2019/2020 financial year,” Advocate Mike Govindasamy, SC, said in his written argument.
“We concede that the budget available is inadequate to assist all but we have managed to secure additional amounts each year even within the right fiscal constraints of the province. The budget has increased by approximately R90m from 2012/2013 to date.”
Disabled persons organisation Siphilisa Isizwe has joined the court action as an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court), supporting EE and arguing specifically for the rights of disabled scholars.
“To the extent that there is allegedly a plan, it does not properly cater for learners with disabilities at all,” Advocate Faranaaz Veriava argues.
“It is estimated that the province has more than 182 000 children with disabilities. These children face considerable difficulties accessing education. This is further amplified by an education system that isolates children with disabilities to poorly-funded special schools and leaves poor black children with no opportunity to attend school at all.”
Veriava says while some pupils “in principle” are provided with transport, in reality the buses were unreliable, the routes were limited and the buses were not appropriately designed.