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School bus a ‘ticking time bomb’

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The parents of pupils at a school in Hartswater have accused the Northern Cape Department of Education of failing their children and allowing an “unroadworthy and overcrowded” bus to endanger their children’s lives.

Parents claim that the bus, which transports Grade 1-7 learners, is unroadworthy and overcrowded. Picture: Supplied

THE PARENTS and school governing body (SGB) of Tadcaster Intermediate School in Hartswater have accused the Northern Cape Department of Education of failing their children and allowing a sub-par learner transport service provider to endanger their children’s lives.

It has been alleged that the operator opted to transport up to 800 learners using a single bus, deviating from the contractual obligation to utilise five buses as specified in the tender agreement.

The bus, which transports Grade 1-7 learners from both Tadcaster Intermediate School and Motswedi-Thuto Intermediate School, is also allegedly unroadworthy and overcrowded.

The parents have also complained that either the learners arrive late for school, or the teachers end up leaving late after school, due to the transportation service not being on time.

The parents have voiced their grievances regarding the service provider, who has apparently secured the learner transport tender for over six years. However, despite these efforts, the situation has not improved and the school remains powerless to effect any change.

The parents emphasised the urgent need to terminate the contract with the “incompetent” operator after discovering that the traffic department had impounded the bus.

The parents said they are reluctant to keep their children at home, fearing accusations of hindering their education. They revealed that they prevented the learners from attending school for two days in 2023 and, as a result, the department dispatched inspectors, who pledged to address the situation, but “nothing happened”.

Parents claim that the bus, which transports Grade 1-7 learners, is unroadworthy and overcrowded. Picture: Supplied

One of the concerned parents reported that the bus frequently suffers punctures due to its “worn-out tyres”, or it faces delays caused by breakdowns. Meanwhile, another parent disclosed that they alerted the traffic department, leading to a roadblock being set up along the reported route.

“It became clear to us that the service provider has someone working with him at the traffic department because the bus dropped off the children at one of the farms and then collected them in groups to do the drop-offs.

“That just resulted in the children arriving even later at school and missing valuable lessons,” explained the parent.

Another parent recounted instances where the bus allegedly veered out of control. He stated that on one occasion, the bus became stranded at a railway crossing, necessitating the intervention of nearby farmers to extricate it, narrowly avoiding a collision with an oncoming goods train.

“The children were very traumatised, some did not even want to return to school after that,” said the concerned parent.

“However, when we raised this matter with the department, only promises were made.”

According to one of the teachers at the school, the situation lies beyond the school’s control, as the department “persists in accepting the sub-par service”.

“We are aware that when it is time to renew the contract or tender, roadworthy buses are presented. But those are not the ones that are used. We only know of this old, unroadworthy bus being used to transport the children,” said the teacher.

Concerned parents and SGB members said the situation was a “ticking time bomb”.

The Northern Cape Department of Education said it was aware of the situation at Tadcaster Intermediate School, after receiving numerous complaints regarding learner transport.

Department spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe assured parents that the district office had engaged the school and the transport operator on the matter to ensure that the terms and conditions of the contract were adhered to.

“At this stage, we are exploring the use of an alternative operator to service this route to ensure that children are transported safely to and from school.

“It is important that children attend school daily and we are doing everything possible to swiftly address this matter,” said Van der Merwe.

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