By Vincent Lali
Volunteers for the Walking Bus initiative in Mfuleni escort learners to schools where gangs operate. They accompany the students in all weather. It is often thankless work with parents blaming them when there are incidents at schools. They say they want official recognition with stipends, training, equipment and uniforms.
The initiative was launched in mid-May in Mfuleni by Community Safety and Security MEC Dan Plato.
Nokuzola Matroos, who has been a volunteer since the start, said, “We duck knives and gangs sometimes, but police just drive past us and don’t give us support.”
“The Department [of Community Safety and Security] said police would show us how to search learners and how to deal with thuggish learners who bring weapons to school,” she said. But according to her they haven’t been given training.
Matroos said the volunteers would like monthly stipend of R1,500. She said community members believed they were being paid. “Parents say we get money for doing nothing and shout at us when school kids manage to smuggle weapons on to school premises,” she said.
But the administrative officer responsible for co-ordinating the project, Raymond Sizani, said: “They are volunteers and as such they won’t get paid. We sometimes buy them food to say thank you. If they don’t want to volunteer, they must return bibs to the department and leave the project.”
Matroos said they work at Manzomthombo High School, Bardale High School and Mfuleni High School. They needed gloves, jackets, raincoats, stop signs and shoes.
“Because we don’t have stop signs, taxi drivers ignore us when we try to stop them so that kids can cross the streets during peak hours,” she said.
Kholeka Bucwa, who has also volunteered since May, said, “We don’t have money to buy food … We want a stipend because it is the government that asked us to look after kids.”
Another volunteer, Nomzekelo Depha, said, “It hurts me when my husband says I wake up early but I don’t bring money to support our kids. Even my kids ask when I will get paid.”
Sizani said the department is trying to get funds to buy the volunteers equipment.
Plato said, “The Department has proposed that the Walking Bus Project volunteer groups be recognised as an activity of accredited neighbourhood watches which could allow access to additional equipment and financial support.”
He said, “Active citizenship, such as participation in the Walking Bus initiative by parents or participation in a neighbourhood watch, is a necessary step in rooting out crime from within a community.”
Spokesperson for the Western Cape Police Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said the “police are supportive of all initiatives by the community to prevent crime. If the volunteers have any concerns or complaints, they are more than welcome to approach the Station Commander of Mfuleni.”
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