Over the past few years many private schools and pre-schools in Harare have chosen to offer transport to pick up and drop off students in a bid to lure pupils who come from other suburbs.
The provision of transport for students used to only be offered by a few former ‘Group A’ schools and private colleges, but nowadays other newly established private colleges also offer this service. Some of the schools hire private transporters, while others use their own vehicles. However, of concern is the fact that some of the vehicles being used to transport school children are run down and do not meet basic safety standards. It seems as if old mini-buses and kombis that have become commercially uncompetitive on the roads are now being used for transporting school children.
The other issue is that of overloading. It is common practice to find school buses carrying nearly twice the stipulated number of passengers, as students are forced to sit on top of each other in order for the vehicle to accommodate more passengers. This has, in some cases, led to fatal accidents.
Harare West MP Jessie Majome last month expressed her disappointment in the transportation system for school children on Facebook, after a commuter omnibus ferrying 24 children from Avonlea School was involved in an accident along Suffolk Road and left five kids injured. “I am shocked that 24 children would fit into a commuter omnibus – I wonder how big it was… Harare United Omnibus Company with its school buses had an impeccable safety record. Lately I have also been wondering why commuter omnibuses aren’t required by law to have passenger safety belts when they carry more passengers than private vehicles for which it is mandatory,” wrote Majome on her Facebook wall.
According to the ZRP Traffic check list, school buses are supposed to have valid passenger insurance, a valid fitness certificate from the Vehicle Inspection Department, and a valid vehicle license. The driver of the school bus is expected by law to be in possession of a class 2 driver’s license and retest, a valid defensive driving certificate and a valid medical certificate. “The driver of a school bus should be above the age of 25 years, just like in other PSV vehicles. In terms of carrying capacity, the vehicle should carry the number of passengers that are stipulated on the fitness certificate, that is 15 for kombis and 22 for mini-buses such as Sprinter and Civilian buses,” said a ZRP Traffic officer who was manning the Traffic Section Help Desk at Charge Office.
School buses should also have public service vehicle registration plates (white and red) and be visibly marked at the back with a sign that reads “Caution Children On Board.” However, a survey conducted by Harare News revealed that buses that belong to government schools and bigger private schools, such as Herentals, are properly marked, while most of the vehicles from smaller colleges are not. Some pre-schools are even using unmarked private vehicles and taxis.
The country’s education laws require schools to have signed indemnity forms from parents before transporting students. However, one educationalist who runs a private college in Chitungwiza said that some private schools were now abusing the indemnity clause.
“Schools are required to have indemnity forms, but I think some schools are now taking advantage of the situation by transporting children in unsafe vehicles that are often overloaded thereby putting children’s lives at risk. The school authorities know that if anything happens their hands will be clean because the parents have signed the indemnity forms,” said the educationalist on condition of anonymity.