For the first time, 172 learners from the Eastern Cape will be spared their usual two-hour walk to and from school. Following a decision by Judge Plasket of the Grahamstown High Court in a case brought by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of four schools, the departments of education and transport in the Eastern Cape are providing the learners with scholar transport.
Across South Africa, learners’ education is affected by a lack of scholar transport. The learners represented by the LRC frequently walked up to four hours a day in order to get to school. Many were unable to attend school during bad weather, and a number had been the victims of violent assaults and robberies while walking to school.
In June 2015, the LRC, acting on behalf of three schools from the Mdantsane area in the Eastern Cape and one from the Fort Beaufort district, sought an order in the Grahamstown High Court granting scholar transport to 172 learners. The schools had applied for scholar transport, but the Department of Education had rejected their applications or, in the case of Masivuyiswe Secondary School, had approved the application but failed to provide transport.
On 26 June 2015, in a precedent-setting decision, Judge Plasket held that the right to basic education is ‘meaningless’ unless learners had access to transport to and from school, at government’s expense, in appropriate cases. Plasket ordered the education department to reconsider its blanket refusal to provide scholar transport to three of the schools and, in the case of Masivuyiswe Secondary School, to provide scholar transport to qualifying learners as their applications had been approved.
The Department of Education’s decision to provide scholar transport to all 172 named learners will transform their daily life. Ms Zweni, Principal of Sakhisizwe Senior Secondary School, one of the schools represented by the LRC, said: “The students are very happy about the decision. They used to arrive late to the first class. Now they arrive early and have more energy.”
Sigutya, a student at Sakhisizwe SSS said: “Scholar transport helps us a lot. I used to walk one and a half hours to school each way. Now I arrive home earlier and I can do my homework on time.” Andiswa Ngam, a matric student at Solomon Mahlangu Senior Secondary School, another of the schools represented, said: “With scholar transport we are much happier and know we are safe. We arrive home before 3pm. We are able to do our homework and are no longer tired.”
The LRC, who welcomed the Department’s decision, said: “We hope it marks the beginning of a reasonable and rational approach to the issue of scholar transport. We are awaiting the finalisation of the government’s scholar transport policy and we trust that the finalised scholar transport policy will be reasonable and sufficiently flexible.”
By 14 August 2015, the Department is required to report to the court on its progress in finalising the scholar transport policy.
For more informatin, read Oxford Human Rights Hub's blog: Long Walk to Education – Scholar Transport Now an Element of the Right to Basic Education in South Africa.