As South Africa enters its 30th year of operating as a democratic nation, tens of thousands of children still face inhumanely long walks to school in order to get the education needed to provide for themselves in the future. In addition to being lengthy, the daily treks are often dangerous. Tragically, the situation underscores unequal access to education in one of the world’s most inequitable countries.
An education report states that schoolchildren’s experiences in South Africa “still very much [depend] on where they are born, how wealthy they are, and the color of their skin.”
According to the report by Amnesty International, the country’s education system is unequal and underperforming. The group also alleges that the government fails to effectively tackle the problems faced by school districts, children, and their parents.
Children are among the most vulnerable people on Earth. Adults in every functioning nation are tasked with the solemn responsibility of protecting and caring for them.
In South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, activists clamor for transport for 200,000 schoolchildren. Fourteen-year-old Luyanda Hlali is one of them.
Weekday mornings are busy for Luyanda. She rises before dawn. She fetches firewood, starts a fire, and boils water before her siblings and parents wake up. After her chores, she begins her six-mile walk to school.
Luyanda lives in the tiny village of Stratford. School buses don’t run there. Children must trek a long, dusty road where criminals can—and do—waylay travelers.
Matthew Ngcobo is a councilman for a nearby area. He points to a ravine where children must cross a shallow but rapid river on foot.
“This place is very dangerous,” he says. “The last time when it rained heavily, a motorist had to be rescued after his car was swept away.”
He adds, “Imagine children having to go through this daily to get access to education.”
Some KwaZulu-Natal parents board their children closer to schools. But that is costly for people who at times cannot buy food. Plus, sending children away leaves parents without help at home.
Ninth-grader Bayanda Hlongwane was often late to school, and “teachers would not let me in,” he says. He begged his parents to let him live closer. Now he stays with relatives about 1.2 miles from his school.
Under South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s policy, officials must provide transportation to students living more than about two miles from school.
But over 1,000 schools in KwaZulu-Natal still wait for government-funded school transportation. With soaring poverty and unemployment, school buses simply aren’t a priority.
The education department says it has no money. So the children keep walking.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. — 1 John 3:1
Why? Simply transitioning a nation to democracy doesn’t solve all the problems of inequity caused by human sin, greed, and mismanagement.
For more about South Africa, see Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton in our Recommended Reading.