Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik, GroundUp7 February 2024 | 8:33

Cofimvaba scholar transport protest enters a third week

Parents at a technical school in the Eastern Cape town have been protesting since 24 January after their children were left without scholar transport.

Cofimvaba scholar transport protest enters a third week

Parents have been blocking the entrance to Sikhoba Nombewu Technical School in Cofimvaba since 24 January, after learners from St Marks and Qamata villages were left stranded. Picture: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik/GroundUp

On Tuesday, parents from Sikhoba Nombewu Technical School blocked the Cofimvaba offices of the Eastern Cape Department of Education for the third time, telling staff to leave the premises.

The parents have also been blocking the entrance to the school since 24 January, after learners from St Marks and Qamata were left stranded. Last year 306 learners were transported. This year the number was cut to 167, leaving 139 learners without transport. (New learners are not included in these figures.)

Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said police were called to intervene. A meeting with parents was held in Cofimvaba police station on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, parents locked the gates again.

“Until transport is sent to pick up our children, we will continue with the protest,” said Sikhoba Nombewu parent Sicelo Sikani.

He said that at the meeting, the department told parents with children in grades 10 to 12 to rent places in Sikhobeni village. Parents rejected this.

He said the department had not even informed them that the route would be cancelled in 2024. “Our children would wait for hours for scholar transport which never arrived.”

He said they’d had no response from the department until they shut its offices.

The department also wants parents to send their learners to schools closer to them, but parents say there are no equivalent technical schools.

Parent Nompumelelo Nqeketo said, “Who is going to buy the new school uniform and pay the school fees? I have two children in this school. I already paid R1,600 for school fees … I earn little money and it took me six months to save for the school fees and the new uniforms.”

Some parents whose children do not have transport problems say the protest is important for them too.

Wezime Mthi said, “This fight is not only for these parents but the whole school. We know when the number of learners drops our government closes the school. This is one of the best schools here and we want to keep it that way. Yes, I’m sad that my daughter has been missing classes but I understand these parents’ frustration.”

But some learners are losing patience with the protest that is blocking them from going to school. A Grade 11 learner told GroundUp: “What these parents are doing is not right, preventing us from going to school, because we are missing lessons at school.

“At the same time we understand why they are doing this because those are our classmates who are sitting at home doing nothing while they are supposed to be at school. I just feel for grade 12 learners – trial exams are starting soon and there’s a lot to catch up.”

Provincial transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said 103,000 learners were transported to school in 2023, but this was cut to 90,917 this year. But on Monday, the provincial government approved an interim relief budget of nearly R90.4-million for scholar transport, which includes paying off R11-million of its debt. Binqose said this will make up the shortfall of 12,000 learners.

He said he must emphasise that the education department decides which learners need transport.

Mtima did not say if the Sikhoba Nombewu learners will be given scholar transport now that additional funds have been approved.