The KwaZulu-Natal departments of education and transport promised in court on Tuesday to provide transport for 12 schools in the province.
Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) took both departments to court following demands since 2015 for transport in the Nquthu area.
All the parties signed an agreement that the 12 schools would have access to transport from 1 April next year. They also agreed that the two departments must report back to the court on 1 April 2018, and provide information on the status of scholar transport policy in the province, their plans to tackle the issue, and the criteria used to decide on the need for the provision of scholar transport.
"This has been a great victory for EE and the students of 12 schools and fixing the problems of learners in KZN," said EE Law Centre lawyer Demichelle Petherbridge.
Outside the court, learners from schools in Nquthu were picketing barefoot. Grade 11 student Sfiso Sibisi from Hlubi High School in Nquthu said he travelled ten kilometres to and from school each day.
"I arrive in class very tired in the morning. In the afternoon I come back home very hungry. It is hard to concentrate in school. I'm always hungry and tired. We are happy that the department has agreed to provide transport for 12 schools. But we will see that when it happens," said Sibisi.
Judge Trevor Gorven congratulated all the parties for settling the matter in a practical way. He said the settlement would take the matter forward so that the needs of learners were taken seriously.
In court were members of the National Teachers Union (Natu) and an organisation for people living with disability, Sikhulisa Isizwe. Celebrating the victory was Vusi Sithole, who has a disabled seven-year-old daughter. Sithole said the child had left school because there was no transport. "I live very far from the school. I need two cars. One to take her to the bus stop and another one to the school. Because I could not afford that, she had to drop out. She can't walk and I couldn't use a wheelbarrow because it's very far. I'm happy that the department has promised to provide transport next year. It was very frustrating," he said.
Natu's Siphosethu Ngcobo said the matter would have not have come to court if the department of education had not "run away". He said MEC for Education Mthandeni Dlungwane was never available when he was invited for discussions on transport.
"The judgment is worth celebrating although it only captures a few schools. So many schools have been excluded from scholar transport and are severely affected. We need to come together with the department to see how this can be resolved sooner rather than later," said Ngcobo.
Department of Education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said the department would study the verdict further. "We still remain committed to providing subsidiary and reliable transportation to deserving learners in our province," said Mthethwa.