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School buses’ Covid chaos

Learner transport in the Overberg resumed on Thursday 8 October, after bus contractors went on strike last week due to the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses.

Schools were disrupted and alternative ways of transport had to be put in place in order for the Grade 12 learners to write their exams.

Hermanus Times reported last week about the learner transport strike (“Strike’s havoc on exams”, Hermanus Times, 7 October 2020.)

Wilton Phillips, acting principal at Gansbaai Academia, says the commencement of learner transportation makes things easier in terms of learners attending class and being able to write their exams. “We are relieved and still monitoring the situation and hope things will be resolved so that we can go back to our new normal,” says Phillips.

On Tuesday 6 October, bus contractors and concerned parents held a peaceful protest in front of the offices of the Overberg Education District in Caledon

“We feel that we are being ignored,” said Mathilda du Plessis-Kroneberg, secretary of South African National Small Bus Operators Council -Western Cape (Sansboc) on Tuesday. Kroneberg explained the body represents all nine provinces. To be fully representative during talks with the WCED, Sansboc has allied with the South African Bus Operators Association (SABOA).

“The reason for our strike is the need for compensation and support for Covid-19 regulations,” Kroneberg explained.

A statement issued by Sansboc on 3 October says its members are small business owners, who form a crucial part of the economy.

“The Covid-19 regulations, specifically Level 5 lockdown, had a devastating financial impact on our members,” it said.

Contractors claim they continuously told the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) the provision of the service on the current terms and conditions is not financially viable.

Bronagh Hammond, spokesperson for the WCED, said 102 schools had been affected by the stopping of learner transport.

She confirmed learner transport services in the other districts, including the Overberg, will resume.

“All these routes have existing contracts in place and contractors cannot withhold services without just reason,” Hammond said.

Helene van Zyl, Director of the Overberg Education District, said on Tuesday she would escalate the concerns to the province, after memorandums from Villiersdorp parents and bus contractors were handed over.

Operators started transporting learners again on 6 October. The WCED thanked all the schools, teachers, parents and community members who have gone the extra mile to assist learners in getting to school, especially to write their examinations.

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