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The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) says that thousands of learners in Khayelitsha and neighbouring areas have missed school due to what it calls harassment and threatening of learner transport operators, private car owners and parents by minibus taxi associations. “On Monday, over 5.000 learners missed school, with 4,200 absent on Tuesday and 4,500 today,” said David Maynier, the MEC for education.

According to him, the taxi associations are demanding that the department allocates transport contracts to them without following the tender process. The taxi association say that they were promised scholar transport partnerships by the department. They have held blockades and according to the department threatened to “offload” the learners from the buses.

Nceba Enge, general secretary of Codeta, said taxi drivers are angry at the Western Cape education department’s failure to meet them to discuss a scholar transport partnership. During March last year, the taxi drivers met deputy director-general, Salie Abrahams at WCED head office in Cape Town. “We met Abrahams to see if we could have a scholar transport partnership. He said we could have such a partnership,” he said.

Abrahams asked the taxi drivers to give him a month to consult the minister of education and senior officials about the taxi drivers’ request for the partnership with WCED.

They even had regular meetings after he had consulted the minister and other senior officials, to discuss how they would work together. ” But he never reverted to us afterwards,” said Enge.

Taxi drivers are now “tired of waiting” for Abrahams to revert to them and have those regular meetings. Enge said, “If he honoured his promise to meet us and things happened properly, what is happening now would not be happening.”

The WCED has said that it will not meet with the taxi associations until the blockade is terminated.

Private learner transport targeted

A Khayelitsha school principal who asked not to be named said about 70 learners were absent from school on Tuesday. The disruption of transportation of learners to school affects schools and the families of the learners, she said. “Learners miss out on lessons and classroom interactions. We are now forced to come up with catch-up programmes for them. Parents are stressed out as they don’t know if their kids will get to school,” she said.

She wants the government to take action against the taxi operators who prevent learners from going to school: “What the taxi drivers are doing is out of order. The government must use its legal powers to control them.”

The WCED says that the schools are doing their best to support parents with work packs for children who cannot get to school. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe.

Town 2 resident Ayanda Manentsa told Elitsha that he saw taxi drivers force learners out of private cars near Masiyile High School on Tuesday. “The taxi drivers pulled the kids out of a private car, but the driver said he would take the kids back home. The government can’t just let the taxi drivers do as they please. It must use the army to control the situation as the police are not able to do so,” he said.

Learner transport operators threatened

Neliswa Maarman, chairperson of the school governing body (SGB) at Injongo Primary School, said: “Lack of scholar transport forces parents to wake up early and walk their kids to school because they have no money to hire private cars.” She said classrooms are empty because 50 of the learners come from outside Khayelitsha. “Some of the learners have been absent from school for two weeks because of lack of scholar transport,” she said.

Some parents are pulling their kids out of Injongo Primary School. Mzukisi Jongola said his kids are in Grade 1. “I want the school to give me a transfer letter so that I can enroll them at Noxolo Xauka Primary School because I have no money to hire private cars to take them to school,” he said. They have been absent from school for two weeks. “My kids sit at home. I’m worried about their future,” he said.