Pupil safety in spotlight

Pupils at the MyCiTi bus stop at a busy intersection in Keizersgracht Street, Zonnebloem.

School-pupil safety in the Zonnebloem area is under the spotlight after a series of disturbing incidents in the space of a month, including the death of a pupil and two abduction scares.

At a meeting at Zonnebloem College Estate on Monday, organisations and government agencies -including traffic authorities, Metro police, SAPS, Safe Schools and Childsafe — met with teachers and principals to address fears about pupil safety in the area.

The community is still shaken after Holy Cross Primary School pupil Liyabona Mbaba died when the unregistered taxi taking him and other pupils to school crashed. (“School remember boy killed in crash,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, August 9).

Later last month, two girls were involved in alleged abductions (“Missing pupils back home,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, August 23).

There’s been a spate of reports of child abductions and attempted abductions across the city in recent weeks.

A primary school child was allegedly almost abducted in Kensington about a week ago. At the weekend, an eight-year-old girl was abducted in Goodwood but later returned to her family. Last week, a Grade 9 pupil on her way to school in the Steenberg area was abducted and sexually assaulted. Kraaifontein schoolgirl Previldge Mabvongwe, 9, was found dead last Thursday after going missing near her home, and on the same day, the body of two-year-old Oyingcwele Zokufa, who had gone missing on Sunday August 26, was dug up from a shallow grave near the N2, in Philippi.

Karen Breytenbach, project director, of the Chris Otto Foundation Trust, told Monday’s meeting that more than two thirds of pupils in the Zonnebloem area were commuting from outlying areas and getting up as early as 5am to catch pupil transport.

“They come from areas like Khayelitsha, Langa, Mitchell’s Plain, Nyanga and Hanover Park,” said Ms Breytenbach.

Many were dropped off early in the morning near the MyCiTi bus stop in Keizersgracht Street, opposite Holy Cross Primary School, and had to walk on to their schools.

The children who walked alone were most vulnerable to abduction, assault or road accidents, she said.

A Grade 5 pupil from Zonnebloem Boys’ Primary broke down in tears when he wanted to explain what happened to him.

Ms Breytenbach said he had been mugged two weeks ago by an older boy.

Western Cape Education Department(WCED) spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said schools should continually review and update their safety policies, particularly those around access control, in light of the recent abduction reports.

Childsafe project manager Kay Jaffer said the organisation’s Safe Travel programme was launched in 2014 to develop training for dedicated “scholar drivers”.

There were now about 900 drivers in the programme ferrying 12 000 children daily, she said.

The drivers are trained in first aid and advanced driving and their performance is assessed regularly.

But Ms Jaffer said schools needed to get involved to build a community of safe drivers, and principals should build a database of suitably qualified drivers.

The City of Cape Town’s Transport Enforcement Unit (TEU) also places strict regulations on transportation for pupils.

TEU principal inspector Eugene Louw said the drivers’ vehicles should be less than 12 years old, be registered and licensed and have seatbelts for every pupil. The vehicle should have a scholar operating licence and the driver should have a professional driving permit and there should be another responsible adult in the vehicle when transporting pupils.

Failure to comply could lead to the impounding of the vehicle and stiff fines.

Thabisa Mampofu, a WECD Safe Schools field worker said the Safe Schools Call Centre (0800 45 46 47) could assist with safety incidents at schools, although the police should be called first in an extreme emergency.

Schools and parents with taxi-related complaints can call the SAPS hotline number at 021 466 0011.