21 January 2016
Parents at a rural primary school in Robertson, Le Chasseur, say they will shut down the school for the second time on Friday if the Western Cape Education Department doesn’t provide transport for all students.
“It’s not safe for my two young children to walk alone on that road. In summer that road is dusty and trucks and bakkies speed, and in winter they get wet because the low bridge near the school floods,” said parent Christina Erasmus.
When schools were meant to begin on 13 January, some parents and community members blockaded the entrance of Le Chasseur. They chained the front gates, preventing any learners or staff from entering the premises. The school remained closed last week.
“We had a meeting in October last year to get feedback on our request for a bus for the children. When the bus didn’t come fetch the children that first day, all of the parents decided to lock the school and keep their children at home,” said Erasmus.
“We were just tired of them not listening to us,” she said.
Most of the learners live on several farms in the Robertson area. Parents say they fear for the safety of their children who have to walk in “dangerous” conditions to and from school everyday.
Following the protest last week, the Department provided the school with one bus and a mini-van on Monday. About 90 children were fetched. There are about 280 children in the school, and the nearest farm is about a kilometre away.
According to the Department’s policy, students in rural areas who have no access to public transport and who live further than five kilometres from the school will be provided with transport paid for by the Western Cape Education Department.
However, many parents are unhappy that only a few children were being transported. When GroundUp visited the area this week, many learners were still at home.
Erasmus, whose children were included in the transport list, said that it was important for all of the children to be transported.
“When its misty, there are no pavements for them to walk on. Three children have been knocked down and killed while walking from school. Especially now in the reaping season when the farm roads are busy with trucks,” she claimed.
Margaret Plaatjies, whose child was not fetched by the bus, lives about 4.5km from the school.
“Do these people know the conditions our children have to walk in? I was upset on Monday when we heard the bus coming and it didn’t come for our children. We could see there was space on the bus, but it drove past,” she said.
Plaatjies said that if the Department did not meet their demands, she would join the other parents in closing the school on Friday.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education Minister Debbie Schaffer, said that the parents decision to close the school would negatively impact their children’s education.
“Parents should find other ways to air their grievances without depriving their children of their education,” she said.
Shelver said the Department was facing “huge” financial challenges.
The Department provides transport to more than 50,000 learners in rural areas at a cost of almost R300 million a year, Shelver said.
“The core reason for our financial difficulties is the recent nationally negotiated wage increases, also known as the improvement of conditions of service (ICS) for public servants, which are well above the rate of inflation,” she said.
“We made a conscious decision to not cut funding in areas where it affects our schools, specifically in our poorer areas. However, given these budget cuts, we will not be able to improve learner transport,” she said.