Children ‘squeezed like sardines’

2018-03-21 06:01
This is the front seat of a Quantum minibus where more than six children, with the driver, were squashed into the front seat. (These pictures were manipula­ted to protect the identity of the children).Photos: Supplied

This is the front seat of a Quantum minibus where more than six children, with the driver, were squashed into the front seat. (These pictures were manipula­ted to protect the identity of the children).Photos: Supplied

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“I have been wondering who to contact and where to report this matter for years now.

“Thank God, my prayers were answered. I am so happy that someone noticed this and will take these poor kids out of this trauma.”

This remark was made by relieved Galeshewe parent Ndo Duiker after a minibus driver was stopped and fined for heavily overloading in Seotshwareng Street on Wednesday (14/03) morning.

The trauma of children, staying far from their schools, and their parents’, combined with the greed of the operators who abuse the situation were put in the spotlight.

This driver of the heavily overloaded vehicle was just one of many transport operators who were stopped on the day by the police in areas in and around Kimberley, Galeshewe and Roodepan.

The parents applauded the police for clamping down on transport operators who ferry school learners to and from school.

The clampdown operation, that is reported to have lasted for almost two hours, saw more than 20 school and staff transport vehicles stopped, in order to ascertain transportation compliance.

According to Capt. Olebogeng Tawana of the police, fines to the values of R11 000 were issued against transport operators.

The offences ranged from contravention of the Road Traffic Act, overloading and driving unroadworthy vehicles.

The clampdown operation was performed after ongoing observation on transport operators, particularly in the mentioned areas.

Tawana said the clampdown operation was not only limited to taxis and mini­- bus­es, but also escala­ted to bakkies, sedans and SUV’s.

Parents feel they are being manipulated by transport operators who use their vulnerability to make money.

According to Duiker, the operators never revealed to parents as to how they squashed in their children on the routes.

Duiker expressed her pride in the police for setting an example.

She added that the sad part is that parents approach these operators willingly and out of desperation and they, in return, never turn down a single person.

“I was once so shocked and could not even speak when I saw how my 13-year-old daughter was squeezed like a sardine in the back of a skorokoro bakkie in the striking heat on that day.

“Although I withdrew my child from the operator, whom I paid every month, I still feel guilty for failing my child.

“She did not see anything wrong with it and only wanted to go to school,” she added.

“Most of these operators do not care about the well-being of our children because it is not theirs.

“All they want is money.”

Another resident, James Sebolai, said he has also been having sleepless nights about this issue after reali­sing how his neighbour’s child was transported.

“The sad part is that the Department of Education has been looking into the issue, but only on their side.

“They were only ensuring compliance on their own service providers.

“If the police can team up with the relevant stakeholders and do this operation every month, our children will be safer on the roads.

“How many accidents have to happen in which children’s lives are at stake?

“These operators are not even shy to drop off the paying children at street corners,” adds Sebolai.

Martha Bartlett, the MEC for Education in the Northern Cape, already raised her concerns on the private transport operators of learners in 2017.

She then admitted that the department does not have any power in that regard as it was the parents’, who pay the operators, responsibility.

Schools can on the other hand not intervene either.

Teachers highlighted that they also have their own responsibilities and children to take care off after work.

He said in most cases parents cannot be blamed as they only pay and leave the rest to the operator.

Tawana said among their findings were taxis or minibuses which are certified to carry between 7 to 16 passengers, overloaded with more than 20 passengers.

“The worst scenario was when 38 learners and 25 adults were found cramped and packed like sardines in two separate Toyota Quantum minibuses and 13 learners in a Toyota Avanza.

“Altogether 18 people were loaded in an Isuzu bakkie and 11 in a Ford Eco Sport SUV.”

The police vow to continue with the clampdown operation to ensure the enforcement and compliance with the Road Traffic Act.

The news brought social media to live as parents started panicking and expressing their frustration, calling for the return of school busses.

Express Northern Cape’s readers wanted to know where they can report beha­viour such as these.

One parent said her child leaves at 06:00 and has not yet returned at 16:00.

“My Gr. R baby girl is not home yet, but she left at 06:00 and her class ended at 13:00.

“How am I suppose to feel about my daughter’s safety?” the frustrated parent wrote.

Some comments suggested that schools, departments and their stakeholders must partner and find solutions for this problem.

The DA has since expressed their appreciation towards the police actions.

The party hope that this will act as a deterrent for those service providers who simply want to make a quick buck at the cost of learners’ safety.

“It is now time for the Department of Education to provide leadership and to manage the learner transport function to the benefit of our learners,” lashed Safiyia Stanfley, DA provincial spokesperson on Education in the Northern Cape.

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