Pupils forced to walk 40km because of transport strike

Matthew Comley

PUPILS in the Eastern Cape, some just six years old, had to walk up to 40km to school and back, wading through mud and crossing rivers in the early morning, as the bus and taxi operators strike entered its second day yesterday.

After a day of negotiations, the strike looks set to continue at least until tomorrow, when taxi operators will be paid the money they are owed.

The operators — contracted by the Eastern Cape Bus and Taxi Business Chamber to transport pupils — suspended their services on Tuesday over a payment dispute.

Patensie High School principal Gregory Prince said many pupils had walked to school yesterday, some covering up to 40km in total there and back.

He said the transport strike was a big setback for the school and added to the problems which had already plagued schools this year.

“First we had problems with temporary teachers who did not show up, and now this.

” We feel we constantly have to try to catch up for lost time.”

Prince said most of the pupils came from farming areas and there was no alternative transport for them as their parents — mostly farm labourers — were unable to transport them.

A Kirkwood farm school principal, who did not want to be named, said 90% of his pupils depended on the buses and taxis for transport.

He said some, all under 12, had walked up to 8km to get to school as they were desperate to be educated. The pupils had to leave home before sunrise and cross rivers and muddy banks to get to the school.

Uitenhage’s Marymount High School maths and science head Eric Ntamesi said although many of their pupils relied on taxis as they came from KwaNobuhle, most had been able to make alternative transport arrangements.

Transport Department spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said he was not sure how many pupils had been affected by the strike yesterday. Tuesday’s figure was 3274.

He said department officials had held a meeting with Eastern Cape Bus and Taxi Business Chamber members yesterday to try to resolve the payment dispute.

Alternative transport arrangements had not been made for the pupils as the department was confident services would be restored following the meeting.

Eastern Cape Bus and Taxi Business Chamber officials were not available for comment.

DA MPL Dacre Haddon said the party had asked Premier Noxolo Kiviet to intervene in the strike issue.

“Not having transport affects pupils’ school attendance, their long- term academic records and their prospects of finding dignified employment,” Haddon said.

A taxi operator, who asked not to be named, said the chamber made payments sporadically and owed many of the operators money for services which had been provided last year.

He said operators had only received one payment this year, and because they did not receive pay- slips they did not know whether this was money owed to them from last year or whether it was the current year’s earnings.

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