Pupils talk about hitting the long road back to school

When lockdown restrictions enforced remote learning for school pupils, they were faced with many new challenges – one of them, however, was not the daily commute to school.

But now that pupils are required to return to school full-time, pupils are again having to factor the wait for public transport, the long ride and the cost of travelling, into their daily routine.

At Vista and Sea Point high schools, many pupils live in the townships on the outskirts of town and have to travel between 25 and 30km to get to school.

The Atlantic Sun spoke to Grade 12 pupils to find out more about their experience.

Vista High School pupil Thalile Jonas, 18, leaves home from Khayelitsha at 5.40am and gets to Green Point at 7.40am, from there she walks to school.

“I use a regular taxi so we travel on the highway and meet up with the traffic,” she said. “So it’s a long ride and I do get tired and the heat also tires me. But yesterday it rained and most of us were soaked when we got to school. When I left home it was clear skies but when we were in the taxi it started raining.”

Brighton Moyo and Kamva Ngaka, both 18, who attend Vista High and are also from Khayelitsha, and use a taxi and a bus respectively to get to the city and then walk up the slopes of Bo-Kaap.

“It’s R21 to come to town with the taxi, and when I go home its R21.50. The queues are usually long in the afternoons and it takes a while to get home, I usually get home after 5 pm,” said Brighton.

“My mother thinks the bus is safer and cheaper. I have the weekly ticket which costs R180. I walk to the bus stop and that takes me about 10 minutes, then the hour-long bus ride and the walk to school,” Kamva said.

These pupils told Atlantic Sun that their parents or guardians believe that the city schools have better resources than those in the townships and that’s why they are enrolled there.

Communications director for the Western Cape Education Department, Bronagh Hammond, said the department was aware of the distances that some pupils travel.

“I cannot respond on behalf of every parent as to why they have made a decision to enrol in schools in the city bowl and commute rather than apply at a school close by. There will be various reasons for that decision,” she said.

“In some instances it may be for better education opportunities, in others it may be because the parents work in town and therefore this is more convenient to travel together, in other instances, they may prefer the school, or there could be subject choices of preference.”

Besides waking up before dawn, the pupils said that they faced dangers in the streets of the townships and the city.

Nasiphi Manyana, 18, from Philippi East, also attends Vista High, said commuting in the early mornings poses a danger, especially in winter when its dark.

“It’s a bit better now in the morning to get to your taxi or your transport. But in winter it is not safe. These gangsters come for the drivers and the school kids to take their money and their phones. It’s hectic where I live, I’ve heard gunshots that time of the morning,” said Nasiphi.

“They (gangsters) are up early and they rob people, they don’t sleep because they using tik,” Kamva added..

“When we leave school we walk in groups because we’ve heard and seen how homeless people attack scholars, a girl in our class got robbed and last year in September, two girls were almost raped. We can’t walk alone,” said Thalile.

It takes anything from 10 to 30 minutes to board a taxi, and then the drive to the city.

With school starting at 8 am the learners admit to feeling anxious about arriving late.

Sea Point High matriculants Buhle Nxazonke and Lukholo Silimela, from Langa and Philippi respectively, said being in a taxi is a risk as the drivers usually speed on the roads.

“They want to get to their destination quick; they want to make more trips and more money, so the driving is a concern. Covid-19 is also a concern as some people don’t wear masks and they don’t open the windows, it’s congested. I’ve seen many accidents on the roads, damaged cars and people hurt, it’s not a nice experience,” said Buhle.

Lukholo said he expected to arrive late at school during the winter months as he, and other pupils needed to avoid thugs and would therefore have to leave later.

“I don’t condone late-coming, but six in the morning it’s dark in winter and you don’t want to be in the dark, it’s dangerous, it’s not safe for us. At school they don’t seem to understand why we come late even though we tell them about these problems,” he said.

Despite the testing situations and the despondency, the pupils say they enjoy school and want to learn although their focus lacks at times. Ms Hammond had this advice for them.

“Thousands of learners travel long distances each day, particularly in our rural areas. We suggest that learners get adequate sleep and utilise travel times, where possible, for reading, homework or rest purposes,” Ms Hammond said.

Sea Point High principal Leana Le Breton understands that the pupils are affected by traffic and crime in the townships.

“About 80% of our learners travel by public transport, we are currently sitting with an issue of late-coming with about 30% learners being late.

“(On Tuesday February 8) we had about 50% arriving late as they were affected by the shooting in Langa. Anything affecting traffic results in learners being late and losing part of the first period,” said Ms Le Breton.

Charline Little, the principal of Vista High, was not available to comment by the time this story was published.

In Langa learners queue with everyone else to get to school.