29 April 2015
More than 800 hundred students gathered today at Ngwenyathi High School in Gwiqi village outside Mdantsane to mourn 13 year old Lutho Felepu who died running for a school bus.
Felepu, who had a heart condition, collapsed and died in front of her school mates last Tuesday after running to be first in line to get a seat on a first come-first serve school bus.
She was in grade 8 and lived 5 km from the school.
Abanathi Ntyuka, a grade 12 student at the school, said the students were traumatised. “Some of Lutho’’s classmates cry all the time and we as senior learners are worried about them and we do not know what to do.”.
“We hope that the transport issue at our school will be sorted out so that this won’t have to happen again. We lost a sister, a friend and someone who could have been a great leader”, said Ntyuka.
Mnyamezeli Felepu who is the father of the deceased learner told GroundUp in a telephone interview that he was still in shock and did not know how to come to terms with what had happened.
Mnyamezeli said that his daughter’s heart failed her after the run. He said that could be the cause of her death but he blamed the government for not providing enough transport for students.
“If the government could have provided more buses, my daughter would not have had to run to secure a seat and might not have died. In June she was supposed to have an operation, so that gave us hope that she would live longer”.
Mnyamezeli described his daughter as a loving person who had dreams and was self driven.
Vuyisile Msawuli, chairperson of the school’s SGB (School Governing Body) said that he was pointing a finger at government for neglecting its duties.
“The school has 343 learners who need transportation home but the government only caters for 163 learners. So to avoid walking learners have to fight and struggle to get a seat in the bus”
Msawuli said that some students walked up to 30 km home. He said they woke up at 3 am to prepare for school and if they missed the bus from 5 am they had to walk to school which started at 7:45 am.
“When learners walk in the dark hours of the morning they are exposed to many dangerous things like rape, robbery and bullying.”
“The death of this young girl should be alarming to the government”, said Msawuli.
Both Mnyamezeli and Msawuli expressed disappointment at how the provincial department of transport was handling the matter.
“I thought government officials would come to the memorial service just to give comfort to the learners and tell them their plans to avoid such things happening again, but they did not. And also they did not even say a word to my family, at least to assist in funeral arrangements”, said Mnyamezeli.
According to the Daily Dispatch Eastern Cape Transport MEC Weziwe Tikana said “I visited the school on the basis that the learner died when she tried to get on the scholar transport, but later discovered she already had a heart problem.”
Equal Education said the MEC’s comment was “deeply hurtful”.
The government had an obligation to ensure that students had access to schools, and were safe, EE said.
“In the Eastern Cape, the budget for scholar transport is reported to cater only for only 60,000 of at least 110,000 learners walking long distances to school”.
Attempts to reach Tikana for comment were unsuccessful.