The Eastern Cape Scholar Transport system is in crisis, with thousands of learners across the province not attending school once this year because they have no means of getting to their classrooms.
On Friday last week, I conducted oversight at Clarkson Primary school, where learners have missed out on six months of learning because their scholar transport driver died.
The sad plight of the children from Clarkson Primary is heartbreaking, but it is also an all too familiar story in the Eastern Cape.
Why has it taken more than six months to find a new driver, and why deny these children their constitutional right to education simply because the Department can’t get its house in order?
In a recent response to a parliamentary question from the DA, former Transport MEC, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, revealed that the Department only screens scholar transport operators once a year, during the tender process.
The current tender will only end on 31 March 2023, which means the 2 343 active scholar transport operators will only be screened again next year.
Former MEC Tikana-Gxothiwe also revealed that, although inspections of scholar vehicles are supposed to be conducted at the beginning of each term, they have not done so this year due to the Department not implementing their 2022 learner database.
We are less than two weeks from concluding the third term, and the Department has not yet finalised the 2022 learner database!
The Department does not even know which learners need transport, but this has not stopped it from allegedly handing out contracts to questionable transporters!
The Public Service Commission is currently investigating at least 306 questionable scholar transport contracts. It is also probing allegations of irregularities, including transport invoices being paid to ghost operators, poor record-keeping of invoices and non-payment to operators who had transported pupils.
The Scholar Transport system has been hijacked, and the ones who are suffering are our children.
I am calling on the new MEC of Transport, Xolile Nqatha, to ensure that scholar transport operators and their vehicles are screened before schools open next term to ensure the safety of our learners.
Steps must be taken to rectify the ongoing issues with Scholar Transport.
The MEC must prove that he takes children’s safety seriously by ensuring all children that need scholar transport have access to safe and reliable vehicles and operators.
The lack of scholar transport has lasting effects on the future of our learners. The DA will continue to fight this battle until the burden of travelling long distances to school is resolved.