A little pool of sunshine on a rainy day came my way this morning, in the form of a smiling 17 year old girl that I gave a lift to, on my way back from dropping my kids at school.
Public transport here in South Africa is patchy, or should I rather say threadbare. In the city there is a train and bus service (though not by any means a comprehensive one), but out here only 40 minutes from Cape Town, the rural communities are served by maybe one bus a day. The huge gap is filled by private “taxis”. These are minibuses designed for eight passengers and converted to take about twenty. They run more frequently than the buses, but are not cheap. A twenty minute ride from the community behind us, into the nearest market town costs R20 return, which is about a third of a reasonable day’s pay for a farm labourer or domestic worker. So a large part of the population get about by hitching rides.
As a mother driving about with small children in the car I don’t usually give lifts. There are always people at the side of the road needing them and I often feel bad driving by, but my primary responsibility is to keep my children safe, so it is easier to have a no lifts policy than to try and assess every single person who sticks their thumb out for a potential security threat.
Having said that, I often feel like a taxi service myself – the car often groans with a load of my children’s classmates having a ride down the 2km road between their ‘informal settlement’ and the school. Some of their mothers, who work at the Camphill Village near us, regularly stop me for a ride when they’ve missed the Camphill bus to work.
Today, as I drove back from dropping the children at their school, on impulse I stopped for a girl hitching a ride and asked where she was going. I was going into the local town to do the weekly shop. She said she was going there to school. Three of her school mates ran over to take advantage of the lift and I managed to fit them all in. I presumed they’d missed the school bus. I have often seen a group of about twenty teenagers in uniform on that corner and assumed the school bus was late. She told me that there is no school bus for them. So I asked about taxis. She laughed and said that they always hitchhike to school.
This is a group of about twenty-seven high school kids travelling 25 km each way every day. Apparently the municipality (town council) won’t provide a school bus because there is a shortage, and these children are crossing the border between two municipalities. They are much closer to another town (poorer, with high unemployment and not a great reputation for its schools) and as far as the authorities are concerned they should just go there. These kids are determined though. The school they go to in the market town is better, they are more likely to end up with a good matric. So every day they get themselves there. I asked whether they get to school every day. They do, though often they are late. The girl in the passenger seat is in Grade 12, her last year. She said she would like to go to college and train to teach, but it would be difficult financially. She smiled again and said she was going to try.
This kind of encounter gives me great hope for the future of South Africa. Forget the newspapers and all the doom and gloom of crime rates. If some the next generation of children, who are living in shacks with no running water, have this kind of determination to get an education and choose the best they can get, rather than settle for what they are told they can have, even if they have to hitch every day to do so, then there is a lot of hope. The future is in their hands.
Anyone who wants to invest in South Africa should look to improving education and helping kids like these go to college, university or teacher training. I was left wondering what I could do to help – I’d like to sponsor the whole lot of them through college, if I wasn’t wondering how we’re going to put our own kids through college when we get to that point. I guess I can see what information I can find out for them on getting sponsorship or bursaries. At the very least I can give them a lift to school on my shopping days and hear their story.
Statistics and surveys can paint one picture, but everyday encounters with actual people, who are far more than statistics, paint that picture with bright colours and transform it into a beautiful landscape.