MEC Makupula must walk 12km to see the consequences of his government's failure
Lindiwe Mazibuko, Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance
13 April 2012
Today I walked 12 km in solidarity with learners from the Mgojini, Mbhekweni, Ballpoint and Hlabeni villages, situated outside of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, to the Zweledinga Secondary School. These students make a daily journey of between 6 and 25 kilometres one-way on foot because they are not provided with learner transport by the Eastern Cape Provincial Government.
This is nothing less than a national disgrace. The children – some as young as 7 years old – must walk practically the distance of the Comrades marathon on a weekly basis, just to get to and from school. The fact that young children have to walk such excessive distances is an affront to our Constitution, and the rights and guarantees it enshrines. The Bill of Rights provides that basic education must progressively be made available and accessible by the state, through reasonable measures.
I will be writing to the provincial MEC for Education, Mandla Makupula, and calling on him to step outside of his official car and undertake the same walk, so that he can see for himself the real consequences of his government’s failure to provide key support to learners in this province.
I will also lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, because the province’s abdication of the responsibility to provide transport for children who have to walk excessive distances is directly impacting upon their constitutional right to receive an education.
Many of the learners who must make this daily journey eat so little that they fall asleep in class and are unable to learn. Many must return to homes without heat in the winter, only to undertake this journey again the next day in arduous conditions.
At the root of this problem lie mismanagement and chronic levels of corruption in the Eastern Cape education system.
This dysfunctional administration failed to spend over 28% of its R1.45 billion education budget last year. In a domino effect, as new schools fail to be built, children are forced to walk longer distances to reach schools far from their communities. By contrast, in the Western Cape, every learner outside of a 5km radius has access to school transport when there is no public transport available.
Yet this week in the Eastern Cape, a strike has suspended the limited transport to which the children of this province have access. This follows the suspension of the scholar transport programme in January 2011, which left more than 100,000 leaners without the means to get to class.
The problem lies with the provincial government, which has repeatedly failed to pay service providers.
Having to walk such far distances has a deeply detrimental impact on learners’ education. During harsh weather conditions, torrential rains, or scorching heat, children are unable to attend school. This deprives them of days of much needed learning. The long walk also puts our children at risk of becoming victims of violent crime, and deprives them of hours of valuable learning time.
The provincial government must urgently address the situation by:
• Spending all of its education budget, and building more schools across the province in the communities where they are most needed. In the Western Cape, 99% of the education budget was spent, allowing for 22 brand new schools to be built. It can be done.
• Reviewing the minimum walking distance for which transport is provided. Currently the Department’s requirement is that learners must have to walk 10 or more kilometres between Grades 4 to 12 and 5 or more kilometres in Grades R to 3. This needs to be reduced so that no child has to walk more than 5km return without public transport.
• Ensuring proper financial management in the Eastern Cape Department of Education, combined with the political muscle to tackle corruption and maladministration.
In order to overcome the legacy of apartheid, South Africa's young people must be afforded access to quality education. This is not merely a constitutional imperative, but a key antidote to the high levels of poverty and inequality which continue to beset our country.
When we force a child to walk 10km to get to school, we deprive them of access to a quality education, and the opportunity to create a future for themselves. The Democratic Alliance will continue to fight on the side of our country’s children to ensure that the government provides them with the support and services they need to succeed.