The Democratic Alliance wishes to express our heartfelt condolences to the parents, family and friends who tragically lost loved ones from Ndamase Senior Secondary School in a horrific crash in Ngqeleni outside Mthatha yesterday.
The DA is also calling on the MEC for Roads and Transport, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, to investigate the allegations that one of the vehicles, a bakkie, was being used as a scholar transport vehicle, which is expressly forbidden by law.
In terms of Regulation 250 of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), no person will be allowed to transport children in the goods compartment of a vehicle for reward.
How many lives would have been saved in this crash, or injuries averted, had the transporter adhered to the rules and used suitable transport with the requisite safety features, designed specifically to save the lives of those onboard?
MEC Tikana-Gxothiwe must acknowledge that the Scholar Transport system is in shambles. At least 45 000 Eastern Cape children will be deprived of access to education as the budget for scholar transport has been significantly cut for the new financial year. Of the 148 000 learners in need of transport, the new budget will provide transport for just 103 000.
Sadly, even these children are at risk of being deprived of an education, as the Department’s scholar transport division is allegedly awarding contracts to ghost operators.
What is needed is a strict audit of all scholar transport operators and their vehicles, as well as a comprehensive service level agreement, which includes financial penalties to operators who do not meet standards set. Repeat offenders, who place learners lives at risk, should be blacklisted from doing any business with the state.
Law enforcement officers also need to police these operators on a daily basis, ensuring that they are in full compliance of the law, from roadworthy vehicles to adhering to occupancy restrictions.
Our deepest condolences go to the families who have lost loved ones, they are in our thoughts and prayers, and we wish a speedy recovery to all that are in hospital.
The Democratic Alliance will continue to fight for a scholar transport system that puts the safety and well-being of our children first.