Pupils battle to get to school

THOUSANDS of school kids - as well as other commuters - are being left stranded as the bus crisis in Durban continues.

The eTthekwini municipality had planned for the bus operator Transnat Africa to be already up and running for the outer city area.

The service has been grounded in a labour dispute of bus drivers who want to be absorbed by the new operator.

The stoppage of the buses was also further aggravated by a court application brought by local bus companies unhappy with the tender process giving Transnat a R300million deal to operate 450 buses.

Pupils who were looking forward to their first day of the third term had to go back home due to transport problems, while others either had to walk or find alternative transport.

Pupils from outlying townships told Sowetan they had to ask for lifts from neighbours to get to school in the city.

Thokozane Magwaza, a Grade 12 pupil at Parkhill High, said she left home in the morning hoping there would be buses - but after waiting for a while she and her schoolmates decided to hitch to school.

"We know that it is dangerous but we had no choice, there are only a few months of school left, we cannot afford to lose another day."

About 1500 scholars from Durban and surrounding townships rely on the eThekwini bus service to transport them to various schools.

Transport woes for Durban bus commuters came after Remant Alton, a BEE company awarded the contract to run the city buses in 2003, ceased operation last month after experiencing financial problems - and dismissing all its workers in the process.

The South African Democratic Teachers' Union secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi said that classes were disrupted at Crossroads and Bester areas in KwaMashu.

also said that they are not happy with the involvement of former MEC for education Ina Cronje in the task team appointed by the premier to sort out the bus crisis - saying that Cronje was the official who had to answer "what happened" to the R1,5million that the department used to subsidise Remant Alton.

The task team appointed Transnat Africa to run the city's buses.

"Cronje should be on the other side of the table giving answers, not the other way around, because it was her department that was paying the subsidy to Remant Alton and today, learners are without buses to transport them to school," Mathonsi said.

"We want Cronje to tell us what happened to that subsidy."

Allen Thompson of the National Teachers Union said that fewer pupils than expected turned out at schools in and around Durban.

"At the end of the day it is the children of poor citizens who are paying the price," he said.

"The parents of these kids cannot afford to transport their kids in taxis every day."

Thompson urged people involved in the eThekwini bus issue to set their differences aside and allow the bus service to function.

The application for an urgent court interdict to prevent the transfer of the Remant Alton contract to Transnet Africa was yesterday adjourned to October 26.

Transnat Africa chief executive Mike Jesserman said: "What is important here is providing the service to the stranded commuters."

Jesserman however could not say when they would resume operations.

"We are meeting with our lawyers as we speak, discussing certain things.

"At this moment we cannot say when the buses will be up and running but we expect to have a decision by this morning," Jesserman said.

Zack Mankge, general secretary of the Transport and Allied Workers Union, was expected to meet with Jesserman yesterday to discuss the labour issues.

The provincial education department spokesperson Mbali Thusi told Sowetan they were still awaiting reports from education officials in the City to know the exact impact of the transport crisis.

"We are waiting for the feedback from our district managers.

"We can confirm that learners have been affected by the transport crisis."