Pupils walking to school. File Picture: Liza van Deventer
Pupils walking to school. File Picture: Liza van Deventer

Scholar transport budget woes leave thousands of KZN pupils who qualify high and dry

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Sep 20, 2021

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DURBAN - THOUSANDS of KwaZulu-Natal pupils who qualify for the government’s scholar transport programme are yet to be included in it because of budgetary constraints.

In addition, due to the constraints on the programme and the number of available buses, 9 763 pupils who are in the programme are deemed as “overloads”.

These revelations are contained in parliamentary replies from questions posed by the DA to the KZN departments of Transport and Education on the functioning of the Learner Transport programme and to the national Basic Education Department.

In the response from the national department, it said in KZN there are 179318 pupils that qualify to be transported. Of this amount, only 62 070 were currently being transported.

The transportation of pupils is the responsibility of the Transport and Education departments.

Both departments were questioned on the issue by the DA MPL and spokesperson on education, Dr Imran Keeka, and both offered identical answers regarding the challenges.

Opposition parties said they had warned the Department of Education about the issue of overloading buses as it endangered children and exposed the department to claims of negligence as overloading was a criminal offence.

KZN Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said the responses to the DA’s questions were the department’s official comment on the matter.

The responses revealed that while the department was struggling to meet its obligation to transport pupils it already has in the system, there were many more pupils that should be part of the programme that have been left out.

It highlighted budgetary constraints as the source of the problem.

When asked how many pupils were considered “overloads”, the department admitted in its responses that overloads were illegal in the country and stated that currently 9 763 pupils were considered overloads. It said that it had tried to reduce this number after receiving a slight budget increase for this function.

“In an attempt to address the issue of unavoidable overloads, when the learner transport budget received a slight increase in the 2021/22 budget, the department used that situation to reduce the number of learners who constituted overloads.

“We have also removed pupils who attend schools of choice from the programme and rerouted the vehicles to pupils in need of transport attending schools of need.

“The programme requires more budget to be able to address the issue of overloads as well as the issue of pupils who qualify to benefit but who, because of budgetary constraints, do not currently benefit and are on the waiting list,” said the KZN Department of Education.

Keeka said the findings were shocking.

“According to both MECs’ responses, they were aware of 9 673 learners who constituted overloads. Equally damning was Education MEC Mshengu’s admission that he was aware that this was unlawful in terms of public transport.

“MEC Mshengu has claimed that the overloading problem stems from the fact that the programme only received a slight increase in its 2021/22 budget and that this funding was used to reduce the overloads. This begs the question: how many more children were being squashed into vehicles before?”

IFP education spokesperson Mntomuhle Khawula said the number of overloads could be much higher than 10 000.

“The government is breaking the law with these overloads, instead of helping pupils, this thing is now a health hazard. We cannot have a situation whereby the government could be contributing to road accidents,” he said.

He said another concern was that the department had not indemnified itself against any incidents resulting from transporting pupils and that left it open to being sued.

“The Department of Health is drowning in medical claims; the same thing is going to happen to the Department of Education,” he warned.

THE MERCURY

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