In the quiet village of Stratford, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the daily routine of 14-year-old Luyanda Hlali begins before sunrise. Her day starts with gathering firewood and cow dung to light a fire for her family. Once her household chores are completed, Luyanda sets off on a 10-kilometer journey to school, a path shared by thousands of South African children in remote, rural areas.

The absence of school buses in these regions forces children like Luyanda to traverse long, perilous roads, exposing them to potential threats from thieves and other dangers. This situation reflects the stark reality of South Africa’s educational landscape, nearly three decades since the country embraced democracy. The lack of government-provided school transportation amplifies the risks, particularly for girls who face the threat of assault, according to

Activists and community leaders in KwaZulu-Natal are urging the government to address this issue by providing transportation for over 200,000 schoolchildren who walk more than 3 kilometers to school, a distance that, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s policy, warrants government intervention. However, with the nation grappling with high poverty and unemployment rates, school transportation remains a low priority.

Psychologist Melinda du Toit points out that this transportation issue is a symptom of broader socio-economic inequalities in South Africa, where those in rural areas continue to lack basic services. A 2020 Amnesty International report echoes this, stating that a child’s experience in South Africa is still heavily influenced by their birthplace, socio-economic status, and race.

In KwaZulu-Natal, a province where over 30% of the population relies on welfare and faces unemployment, families often have to choose between essentials like food and paying for public transport. The dangers these children face on their way to school are real and constant, with reports of robbery, threats, and even assaults.

School principals recount struggles to secure adequate transportation, with incidents of violence against students who couldn’t board the overcrowded buses. The region witnessed a tragic accident in September 2022, when 18 students perished in a minivan crash en route to school.

Local councilman Matthew Ngcobo highlighted additional hazards, such as dangerous river crossings that children must navigate to reach their schools. Some families have resorted to boarding their children closer to schools, but this solution comes with financial burdens and a loss of help at home.

Despite the efforts of activists and organizations like Equal Education, which began campaigning for better school transportation in 2014, the provincial education department’s response remains unchanged due to budget constraints. This leaves many children with no choice but to continue their long, perilous walks to school, a daily testament to the ongoing struggle for equitable education in South Africa.

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