Many South African children still have to walk long distances to school

Early on a summer’s morning, their chores done, Luyandi Hlali and her friend Mimi Dubazane set off on their 10 kilometre walk from the village of Stratford to their school in Dundee.

The girls face a dangerous journey during which thieves and bad men could accost them, a situation made even worse in the darkness of winter.

They are some of the 200,000 schoolchildren in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province who have to walk more than three kilometres to get to class each day.

And are among the hundreds of thousands of children in the poorest and most remote rural communities who struggle to get to school.

“I wake up and start my day at around half past four so I can get the fire going. I then bath and get dressed to leave a little after five,” said Luyandi.

“I usually get to school at around seven and I arrive tired. I often struggle to concentrate on what the teacher is saying and I sometimes fall asleep.”

Government policy states that the authorities are required to provide transportation for children who have to walk more than three kilometres to school.

But with poverty soaring and unemployment at over 25 per cent, school buses are low on the list of priorities.

A school principal in the region, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, spoke about his battle to get more buses approved after some of his girl students were raped by local thugs.

His school has two old buses that can take about 65 children each, nowhere near enough for his more than 400 students.

“There are those who can’t get on the bus and are forced to walk close to 20 kilometres to get to school. Many of them decide not to come on those days,” he said.

Psychologist Melinda du Toit said the problem of inequality means those who cannot afford to live in urban areas struggle to improve their lives.

“They start very early, so they haven’t had enough sleep. What happens in the brain when you are tired, the neurotransmitters, those things that must carry the messages to your prefrontal cortex, they do not work,” she said

“And it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how intelligent you are, the brain is like a computer, and it works in a specific way.”

At the end of the school day, for those lucky enough to live nearby, with parents or relatives, it’s a taxi ride home.

For Luyandi and Mimi, like many other youngsters in South Africa, it’s a tiring journey on foot back to chores and homework.