Minister Schäfer engages with Sonskyn Vallei community
Yesterday I, along with the Deputy Director-General for Education Planning at the WCED, Mr Salie Abrahams, met with representatives of the community of Sonskyn Vallei in Mossel Bay – including parents of children in the community that attend Hartenbos Primary School. I also followed the route the learners must walk to school in the absence of school transport, to see it in person and better understand their circumstances.
The learners live less than 5km from the school and they do not meet the minimum distance for the provision of school transport according to the WCED’s policy. Provision is made in the policy, however, for exceptions for reasons of safety. Obviously these concerns must be very serious and based on facts in order to be considered.
At the meeting we agreed that we shared a common priority: ensuring the safety of learners on their way to and from school. However, as much as we would like to transport more learners to school, the reality is that our budget is under severe strain, and the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
The WCED cannot solve road safety issues on its own – municipalities, schools, other government departments and communities need to work together to find long-term solutions to transport challenges.
This is why the meeting also included the Executive Mayor of Mossel Bay, Alderman Harry Levendal, the Speaker of Council and Council members, municipal officials, and the principal of Hartenbos Primary School, so that all parties with firsthand knowledge of the situation could provide guidance and suggestions to resolve safety challenges.
I was very pleased with the spirit of the meeting, and the open discussions we were able to have. Community members, the Principal and the municipality offered ideas freely and shared an eagerness to contribute to solutions.
This approach is far more helpful in addressing concerns than protesting and preventing learners from attending school. We resolved in the meeting that the school will work with community members and compile a learner transport application that includes information on the experiences with the “walking bus” for re-consideration, as well as reported incidents and locations where learners have been injured, key problem areas along the route, alternative long-term solutions, and any other information they wish to bring to the Department’s attention.
The Department will consider all of this information to determine if a temporary transport arrangement can be made until a long-term solution is found.