By TRISTAN COOKE and SUE MACLENNAN
More than a month after the already late start to the school year, 44 children from the rural areas of Collingham and Fort Brown near Makhanda had not set foot inside a classroom in 2021 and on Tuesday 23 March, a group of parents converged on the Department of Education’s district offices in St Aidans Avenue to demand answers.
“Kids, small kids have to walk 10, sometimes fifteen kilometres to and from school,” Bongani Peter, a driver tasked with fetching children from Fort Brown as an interim measure told GMDirect on 24 March.
Peter, who owns and drives Bongs Tours, said he had been contacted by the Department of Transport around 8am that day and asked to go to the Department of Education at 9am. However, en route, he received a phone call instructing him to go to Fort Brown to collect children.
“I have not received a contract from the [Department of Transport],” Peter said. “I used my own fuel to go to Fort Brown.”
Contacted at 11.30am on Tuesday, Collingham parent Nomazizi Nyali said no scholar transport had yet arrived. The day starts at 7.30am at most schools.
There are 27 learners from Collingham (around 20km north-east of Makhanda) and 17 from Fort Brown (30km from Makhanda) who need to get to school in Makhanda every day.
Department of Education spokesperson Mali Mtima referred questions about scholar transport to the Department of Transport.
“Money is given directly to the Department of Transport for scholar transport,” said Mtima. “It is up to them to ensure every scholar has transport to get to school.”
Approached for comment on Thursday, spokesperson for the Department of Transport, Khuselwa Rantjie said she would need to research the specifics of this case before commenting in detail; however, given the distance from local schools (30km) it was likely the learners did qualify for scholar transport.
“The first step is for the Department of Education to confirm a learner’s acceptance at a particular school,” Rantjie said.
“Then it is up to them [the DoE]to write to the Department of Transport so say, ‘We have X number of learners from such and such a place attending school at this place. Then based on the number of children and the distance, we make provision.”
When GMDirect called Fort Brown parent Asanda Mzizi on Thursday afternoon, she said the problem had been resolved, however.
“When we went to the offices on Tuesday, they phoned the [district]head office in Graaff-Reinet. Then the transport was there at 6.20 on Wednesday.”
The Fort Brown learners attend Ntsika, Khutliso Daniels and Nathaniel Nyaluza secondary schools, Mzizi said.