“Challenges Persist for South African Children on the Long Walk to School”

by Michael Nguyen
Education Inequalities

Nearly three decades after South Africa’s democratic transformation, the journey to education remains arduous for many children in the country’s remote rural areas. Take 14-year-old Luyanda Hlali, for example, who rises before dawn each weekday to gather firewood and cow dung, essential for her family’s daily life. Once her morning chores are complete, she embarks on a daunting 10-kilometer (6-mile) walk to reach her school in the tiny village of Stratford, located in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Luyanda’s story is not unique. Tens of thousands of children in South Africa’s most impoverished and isolated rural communities face similarly long treks to the nearest public schools. The absence of government-funded school transportation exacerbates the myriad dangers that these children encounter along the way.

One of the most pressing concerns is the safety of these young students. The absence of school buses leaves them vulnerable to assault and robberies, with girls at particular risk. This situation only perpetuates the existing inequalities in a nation described by the World Bank as the world’s most unequal. In KwaZulu-Natal, efforts are underway to press authorities to provide transportation for over 200,000 schoolchildren who must walk 3 kilometers or more to school. Under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government policy, such distances should qualify for transportation support. However, in a country grappling with high poverty rates and unemployment exceeding 25%, school buses are not a top priority.

Psychologist Melinda du Toit emphasizes that the lack of school transportation reflects the socio-economic realities and inherent inequalities of South Africa. Those who cannot afford to live in urban areas continue to suffer from a lack of access to basic services.

A 2020 Amnesty International report reinforced these disparities, highlighting that children’s experiences in South Africa largely depend on their place of birth, wealth, and skin color. The country’s education system continues to grapple with stark inequalities and underperformance, deeply rooted in the legacy of apartheid.

In KwaZulu-Natal, where more than 30% of the population is unemployed and dependent on welfare, many parents face a difficult choice between purchasing food or paying for public transport, which costs roughly $19 a month. Some children go to school without having breakfast, a dire consequence of these economic hardships.

Bongiwe Nhlangothi, Luyanda’s grandmother, expresses her fear for her grandchildren’s safety on the road. Drug addicts and criminals often target children in the early morning hours, robbing them, threatening them with knives, and attempting to assault them.

A school principal from a village near Dundee, where some girls were raped by local criminals while walking to school, shares his struggle to secure more school buses for his students. The overcrowded buses and the fear of breakdowns or accidents make the situation even more precarious.

Tragic incidents have already occurred. In September 2022, 18 students lost their lives when an overcrowded minivan crashed on its way to school in Pongola.

Matthew Ngcobo, a councilman in Endumeni municipality, emphasizes the hazards children face, including crossing a shallow but rapid river on foot. These daily challenges underscore the urgent need for improved school transportation.

Some parents have resorted to boarding their children closer to schools, but this option can be financially burdensome and leaves them without crucial assistance at home. Students like Bayanda Hlongwane, who was frequently late to school, have pleaded with their parents to live closer to their educational institutions to overcome this daily struggle.

Activist Tebogo Tshesane, representing Equal Education, a nonprofit organization, explains that the campaign for better school transportation across KwaZulu-Natal began in 2014, sparked by letters from students who endured hours of walking to school.

Government figures reveal that over 1,100 schools in KwaZulu-Natal are on a waiting list for government-funded school transportation. Unfortunately, the education department’s consistent response is a lack of funds, leaving children to continue their challenging journeys to education.

As South Africa marks nearly three decades of freedom, the long walk to school for many of its children remains a stark reminder of the enduring inequalities in the nation’s education system.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Education Inequalities

Why do South African children face long walks to school in remote areas?

South African children in remote areas face long walks to school primarily due to the lack of government-funded school transportation. Poverty and high unemployment rates in the country have led to limited resources for providing buses or other means of transport to students who live far from their schools.

What dangers do these children encounter during their walks to school?

Children walking to school in remote areas of South Africa face numerous dangers, including the threat of assault, robberies, and even sexual assault. Criminal elements target these vulnerable students, particularly girls, as they travel along long, dusty roads and sometimes cross hazardous terrain like rivers.

How does this situation exacerbate existing inequalities in South Africa?

The absence of adequate school transportation perpetuates inequalities in South Africa’s education system. Children’s access to education becomes dependent on their place of birth, economic status, and skin color. Those who cannot afford to live in urban areas or pay for transport continue to lack access to basic educational services.

What steps have been taken to address this issue in KwaZulu-Natal?

In KwaZulu-Natal, there are efforts by campaigners, activists, and local leaders to press authorities for improved school transportation for over 200,000 schoolchildren who must walk long distances to school. These efforts aim to ensure that students living beyond a certain distance from their schools receive the necessary transportation support, as per government policy.

How does the legacy of apartheid contribute to educational inequalities in South Africa?

The legacy of apartheid has left deep-rooted disparities in South Africa’s education system. These historical inequalities continue to persist, with some communities bearing the brunt of underfunded and underperforming schools. The lack of school transportation further exacerbates these disparities, making it a complex and multifaceted issue to address.

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ActivistSoul November 12, 2023 - 10:37 pm

terrible situation, kids need buses, safety, & equality! we must demand change!

ConcernedParent88 November 13, 2023 - 4:40 am

wow, parents hav 2 choose food or transport? that’s not right, somethin gotta change

Reader456 November 13, 2023 - 3:35 pm

dis txt makes me sad 🙁 why r these kids walkin so far 2 get an edukation? govt shud do bettr

EduEqualityAdvoc8 November 13, 2023 - 3:48 pm

apartheid’s legacy still hurts SA’s education, more help needed 4 rural kids!

AwareCitizen2023 November 13, 2023 - 4:31 pm

thanks for sharin, let’s spread awareness & push 4 better educ8ion 4 all kids


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