Two court cases are evidence that every parent’s worst nightmare – entrusting the care of your children each day to the state and having it fail in its duty of care – is real.
The first case, thankfully, had an optimistic conclusion in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday. There, education officials reached a last-minute settlement with NGO Equal Education over the department’s failure to provide pupil transport for millions of children who walk to school.
The department now has five months to supply transport to children in Nquthu in a case that will have ramifications across South Africa.
This case was not only about transport, but about the safety of children too.
The affidavits describe how millions of children face the daily threat of drowning trying to cross rivers during heavy rains, and how they fear being mugged, raped or murdered on their way to school.
The government has a duty to ensure transport is provided to pupils who live more than 3km from the nearest school.
It isn’t happening. About 8.7 million children have no choice but to walk to school, official statistics show.
The other case, due in the Polokwane High Court, revolves around six-year-old Michael Komape drowning in his school’s pit latrine in January 2014. The little boy drowned after the corrugated iron structure collapsed around him. His family are claiming R3-million in damages from the Education Department.
But a similar risk remains for tens of thousands more. There are still 4624 schools across the country that have pit latrines, which is clearly unacceptable.
These two cases are but the tiny tip of a large iceberg of failures by the state to diligently protect the most vulnerable in our society – our children.