School teacher's desk. Picture: THE TIMES
School teacher's desk. Picture: THE TIMES

Lobby group Equal Education (EE) has launched court action against the KwaZulu-Natal departments of education and transport, in a bid to force them to provide scholar transport for 12 schools in the Nquthu area.

Provincial education departments are responsible for the nondiscriminatory selection of students to benefit from the subsidised learner transport service.

The court action comes as the two KwaZulu-Natal departments declined to provide scholar transport to seven of the 12 schools identified by Equal Education in Nquthu, claiming a shortage of funds.

Scholar transport is a topical issue in all provinces, but KwaZulu-Natal has the highest proportion of students who walk to school. The province underspent its R186m budget by more than 60% in the third quarter of 2016.

The schools include Hlubi High, Magogo Primary, Manzolwande Primary, Ngwane High, Hlalele Primary, Nkunyana Primary and Ukuphumula Secondary school.

The departments also claimed that the remaining five schools were "schools of choice" and not "schools of need", saying these were not the schools nearest to the homes of many of the pupils.

These five schools are Langazela Secondary, Maceba Secondary, Mgazi Secondary, Ubongumenzi High and Hlinzeka Primary School.

Equal Education national organiser Luyolo Mazwembe refuted the claims by the provincial government saying a lack of scholar transport was a serious barrier to accessing education.

The group has been advocating for scholar transport since 2014, and says although it achieved significant victories in the fight for scholar transport, more needed to be done.

Equal Education has secured a commitment from the province to provide government-subsidised buses to three schools in Nquthu, to publish the national learner transport policy, and for the Department of Basic Education to work with the Treasury to explore the introduction of a scholar transport grant.

Mazwembe said students in Nquthu were still walking punishing distances to access an education, vulnerable to severe weather and violent crime, and arriving at their classrooms late and unable to focus.

Equal Education is asking the High Court in Pietermaritzburg to declare that the failure to provide scholar transport violates the constitutionally protected right to a basic education. It also wants the court to instruct the provincial education and transport departments to explain what steps they planned to take to rectify the situation.

"The KwaZulu-Natal departments of education and transport fail to demonstrate the co-ordination and urgency required to ensure that all learners who are in need of scholar transport are accurately identified, and that the crucial service is immediately made available" Mazwembe said.

The departments were expected to file responding affidavits by June 26.

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