The closure of Southwell School, a farm school, and transfer of its pupils to Ikamva Lesizwe Combined School in Kenton has seen pupils stranded since a contingency plan to provide transport for them has been mired in issues of payment.
The Eastern Cape Department of Transport made an arrangement with taxi drivers to provide transport for the pupils when they still attended Southwell School. Then circumstances changed when the school closed and the pupils started attending Ikamva Lesizwe.
Concerned taxi owner Vukile Kongwana brought the matter to TotT’s attention. He said he had mixed feelings, as a complainant taxi owner and simultaneously sympathising as a parent.
Speaking on behalf of his co-worker, Jezi Koti about the root of the problem, Kongwana said they wanted the department to calculate new kilometres that were added by the relocation of pupils to Ikamva Lesizwe.
“We are paid according to kilometres, not per pupil, so we want the department to consider the new additional kilometres,” he said.
But Kongwana ssaid that department had refused to meet them halfway, saying that counting kilometres would not change things because the department did not have enough funds for additional kilometres.
Although the department eventually came to the table in a meeting held in Grahamstown last Tuesday, there was no resolution.
According to Kongwana, the department confessed that it did not have money and therefore could not do anything about additional kilometres caused by the transfer of pupils to another school.
This led to Koti’s immediate resignation as a transport provider, terminating his contract with them.
The disagreement escalated from there. “They want our cars to be in good condition but they do not want to pay according to that standard,” Kongwana said.
He further said that the gravel roads to Kenton had motivated their request for additional charges.
Koti’s resignation meant there was no transport for the pupils he used to take to school. Emotionally drained by the outcome of the meeting, Koti had not even informed parents or pupils about his contract termination.
Kongwana went on to reveal how other pupils were badly affected. “On Monday pupils were transported to school by a farmer, thinking that their transport had a problem,” he said.
However, coming back home after school was another problem for pupils.
Kongwana said last Tuesday pupils had waited for hours at the pick-up point till they went back home after their driver did not show up.
Kongwana said he himself has continued transporting pupils even under the additional burden of more costs.
Last Wednesday parents held a meeting with the school principal. “The principal asked me to take Grade 12 pupils because they are falling behind in their exams,” Kongwana said.
Several attempts by TotT to contact the Department of Transport were unsuccessful.
Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said they would investigate the matter.
Mtima said that claims about a lack of budget were incorrect as the department effectively plans rationalisation of schools beforehand.
He said it could be that the matter is still handled at a district level as school inspectors represent their schools at a district level before any matter is transferred to the provincial level.