News reports that a twelve year old child who had been raped repeatedly over a period of time by “umalume” who drove her to school in Manzimtoti has given birth should shock the Kwa-Zulu Natal Department of Education into action. This has emerged more than two years after the department was ordered by the High Court to provide a plan to improve learner transportation in the province, including transport for learners with disabilities.

Equal Education took the KZN Department of Education to court to force them to provide transport for 12 schools in the Nqutu region in November 2017. The department conceded that it was obligated to do so and the agreement reached with Equal Education was made an order of the court. SECTION27 intervened in the case as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) to bring to light the plight of learners with disabilities who face even more dangerous circumstances when trying to get to school. In terms of the court order, the Department was obliged to report to the court on its plans to improve learner transport in the province.

The Department has filed two inadequate reports following the court order, which do not indicate when the transport policy will be finalised, nor do the reports detail how the Department will improve learner transport in the province. The case is scheduled to return to court in November 2019.

In its 2016 report, SECTION27 outlined the serious rights violations faced by learners with disabilities in relation to school transportation. Special schools in the UMkhanyakude district reported that although the department provided funding for two small buses, these were only sufficient to transport a small proportion of the learners. In addition these were largely ordinary buses which were not equipped to accommodate learners who cannot sit up straight or who are in wheelchairs. The specials schools noted that these buses often broke down meaning the learners simply could not come to school. This is an infringement on the rights of the learners to basic education.

For the majority of learners who do not benefit from transport provided by the state, “umalume” or private transport is the only option for the long distances they cannot cover on foot. The ongoing rape of this learner clearly highlights the dangers associated with unregulated transport for young learners, especially girls.

This should be a wakeup call for the Department of Education to act swiftly to fulfil their mandate in developing a costed plan and policy which provides adequate transport for such learners.

The MEC for Social Development Nonhlanhla Khoza is quoted as saying that she would work with the departments of Education, Transport and Public Safety to ensure that there is a programme in place to ensure that those who transport children are fit to do. This is long overdue and we call on the departments to act immediately to protect the rights of children.

For more information contact: Zukiswa Pikoli on 071 195 3177 or email pikoli@section27.org.za