Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre’s (EELC) quest for learner transport policy

July 28, 2023 Jesi Carson, Participedia Team
July 24, 2023 Jesi Carson, Participedia Team
February 28, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 24, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 22, 2023 Babongile Bidla
February 22, 2023 Mogammad Davids

In 2021, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport, pressured by Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) Scholar Transport Campaign, agreed upon the implementation of a Learner Transport Policy. The policy's release proved invaluable in addressing the need for safe, reliable, government-subsidised learner transport across the province.

Problems and Purpose

Education, as the late Nelson Mandela puts it, "is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." [2]. With South Africans celebrating the legacy of Nelson Mandela every year, this also marks the most crucial advance for the nation's children since the end of Apartheid. During this heinous regime, the government intentionally halted access to quality and sufficient education for most of the country's population. The apartheid regime created a legacy of providing unequal education to students, with many of their creations being felt within today's generation of learners/students.  

As suggested by the 2013 National Household Travel Survey, published by Statistics South Africa, of the 17.4 million learners who attended educational institutions, about 11 million walked all the way. In KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) alone, more learners walk to school than in any other province. Over two million primary and secondary school learners walk. Of these learners, more than 210 000 walk for more than an hour in one direction, and 659 000 walk between 30 minutes and an hour each way. [3]. With this task at hand, Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have been actively involved in the battle for access to scholar transport in KwaZulu-Natal. Their program/ initiative is called # LongWalkToSchool and is the case in question for this entry for Participedia.  

Background History and Context

In 2012, Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) was founded as a public interest law centre that focuses on advocacy to ensure the right to primary education within South Africa. The EELC is also connected to its sister organisation, Equal Education (EE), a movement of teachers, learners, community members, and activists first established in 2008. They have constantly worked for equality in the South African schooling system through activism and analysis. The Constitutional Court described the right to primary education as follows: [The right to a] basic education is an important socioeconomic right directed, among other things, at promoting and developing a child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to his or her fullest potential. Basic education also provides a foundation for a child's lifetime learning and work opportunities. To this end, access to school – an important component of the right to a basic education guaranteed to everyone by Section 29(1) (a) of the Constitution – is a necessary condition for the achievement of this right. [4]  

Scholar transport is an essential component of the right to primary education. In addition, when this transport is cost-efficient (or accessible) and, most importantly, reliable and safe, students/learners successfully arrive at school on time without any harm occurring. This ultimately allows these students/ learners to utilise their energy in class productively. However, those not provided access to this resource suffer life-threatening career consequences and circumstances. For example, in 2014, members of EE based in the Nquthu area in KwaZulu-Natal highlighted travelling to school as a significant obstacle to their education [5].

As such, in January 2015, Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre visited schools in the Nquthu region. Members spoke to teachers, principals and staff members who shared similar dissatisfaction with teaching students were either hungry, exhausted or both after completing long walks to school. As a result, these students struggled to concentrate and stay awake during class/teaching hours. Important to note was the fact that teachers and principals reported high incidents of "late coming, absenteeism, and learners dropping out of school to the lack of scholar transport. Some described how school attendance was as low as 5% to 10% on days of heavy rains or lightning storms, particularly during the summer rainfall season. ". [5]. In addition, teachers and principals further commented that providing additional lessons after school hours was difficult, as learners/students were still tasked with making the long journey back home.  

After their initial visit to the region of Nquthu, the headline piece of information was that 15 out of the more than 500 schools in this district were currently provided with scholar transport due to a lack of budget. [5] Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre then researched to have a deeper look at these worrying statistics. With the research conducted, a few stats around scholar transport stood out. They are as follows:  

  •  Discovered KwaZulu-Natal had the greatest need for scholar transport in the country. The province has the highest number of students in the country who walk to school and the highest number of learners who walk to school for more than an hour (in one direction). 
  •  KwaZulu-Natal spent less on scholar transport than other provinces except Limpopo, Free State and the Northern Cape. For the 2014/2015 financial year, KZN allocated R168 430 000 to transport 34 814 learners in the province. In comparison, the Eastern Cape, which has fewer learners requiring scholar transport than KZN, allocated R356 076 000 (and eventually spent R431 214 000) to transport students in the same financial year. [5] 
  • Nationally, only 360 248 learners benefitted from scholar transport programmes. In comparison, more than half a million (517 000) learners walk for more than an hour to get to school, with a further two million learners walking for between 30 minutes and an hour to get to school. [5] 

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

Equal Education (EE) was first established in South Africa in 2008 by education activists Yoliswa Dwane, Doron Isaacs and Zackie Achmat and local high school learners to campaign for equitable educational conditions in Khayelitsha. The campaign's initial objective was to convince local officials to fix approximately 500 broken windows at Luhlaza School. To the organisers' surprise, the campaign gained assistance from learners across all schools in Khayaletisha. [6] Equal Education's initial campaign can be viewed as a success as it established an excellent foundation to build on, providing examples of good and effective plans/strategies for respective work. 

Furthermore, these plans/strategies that Equal Education presented can comfortably be utilised for other grassroots initiatives and movements. The learner transport initiative is one such example. The organisation's structure is centred around adults and youth working together on social projects/campaigns so that adult leaders organise and provide the resources to the youth. In turn, these youth lead the way in significant mobilisation efforts. [5] This essential relationship between adults and youth is a prime example of an "adult-initiated [effort] with shared decisions with the youth campaign" [8] [9]

As the learner transport campaign has spanned seven years, there have been numerous roles played by Equal Education members in starting various initiatives within the overall campaign of securing safe, reliable and free transport to thousands of learners within the KwaZulu-Natal province and, subsequently, South Africa. These duties include visiting schools to discuss social barriers with teachers and principals, marching to and engaging with the KwaZulu-Natal government, picketing outside the Department of Basic Education, and coming together in large groups to protest and stand in solidarity with one another. [5]. In terms of the role the government has played throughout this campaign, apart from providing a meagre amount of transport to only certain schools, their response and efforts have not been monumental.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

As the KwaZulu-Natal province had the highest rate of learners walking long and treacherous distances to school, the Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre learner transport campaign focussed on the KwaZulu- Natal province. Members of these organisations, school students, parents and activists based within the province were encouraged to participate in meetings, rallies, protests and discussions. Though the process was not directly limited, the geographical location of KwaZulu- Natal made it extremely hard for members to join if based in another province. The organisers relied on local networks to assist in spreading the news of their meetings, marches and deliberations. Once a member, a youth is then known as an "Equaliser" within the organisation. [5]  


Image of Equal Education rally in 2019

Methods and Tools Used

Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre are viewed as civil societies/organisations. Due to students in rural areas struggling to arrive at school, EE and EELC have pressed the Department of Education to release the final policy. Due to this civil group/organisation publicly engaging for the upliftment and improvement of the education sector, this can be viewed as an instance of civil society strengthening democracy due to the participation of non-state-related groups.

However, a serious question has arisen: "Are individuals in emerging democracies more likely to embrace democratic values, learn basic knowledge about political processes, and engage in politics in response to donor-sponsored civic education programmes?" [1]. Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre have utilised interactive methods to teach members, students, parents and activists about the various techniques and participatory methods, such as engaging in small talks with school staff, allowing for the youth to become actively involved in programmes aimed at improving education in South Africa, as well hosting general meetings with residents of particular areas in which learners are expected to walk dangerous distances.

  •  Interactive methods

 An essential aspect of the organisation abiding by its beliefs of promoting youth participation is the weekly Youth Groups, comprised of Equalisers who meet to shape and influence the movement. [10]. It is in these meetings that Equalisers are trained intellectually, emotionally and politically. These weekly youth groups are specifically developed to encourage Equalisers to think crucially and acutely about the education system, law, society and policy. The topics covered include discussing current affairs, reading historical texts and looking at 'real-world' issues which affect learners, such as gangsterism and education legislation. Youth Groups are also trained to strategise and plan specific campaigns and actions. Weekly youth meetings being facilitated by former Equalisers allow current Equalisers to interact with and learn from young leaders who have previously been trained and developed by the Equal Education movement, ultimately seen as role models for younger learners. [10] There are approximately 20 weekly Youth Group meetings in greater Cape Town and provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. 

Amazwi Wethu, "Our Voices", is Equal Education's youth film training programme. Amazwi Wethu aims to equip Equalisers with documentary film, photography and editing skills. Youth are provided with a platform to learn how to use media in their activism and, therefore, to effectively share and amplify their voices with the broader public. An example is EE's #LongWalkToSchool short film, which showcases the transport issue faced by thousands of young South Africans. Amazwi Wethu develops technical skills but builds EE's educational and mobilising work with community members through screenings and seminars.[10] 

Image of #LongWalkToSchool. Picture: Equal Education

EE runs weekly political education and leadership classes for youth leaders, many of whom facilitate the youth groups. The topic of such classes include: 

  • History of property relations from tribalism to capitalism; 
  • Colonialism; 
  • Elections; 
  • Conflict resolution; 
  • Communicating messages effectively. 

Activities of the classes include readings, questions and discussions, mock debates, warm-up games, singing and dancing. In all of EE's educational activities, various tools are employed, including music, debate, group discussions, games, singing and peer-to-peer education, which allows for dialogical communication rather than a lecture format. Mobilisation tools, which are also considered educational, include mass meetings, social media, marches, door-to-door visits, film screenings, and cultural performances. [10]

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Equal Education marches

On 9 April 2015, around 500 members of the Equal Education, based in Nquthu, marched to KwaZulu-Natal's Department of Education, demanding scholarly transport be made available. EE demanded that scholar transport be provided to the learners of Nquthu and that the provision of scholar transport in KZN be prioritised and expanded significantly. EE also demanded that a national scholar transport policy be adopted and that a conditional grant from the Treasury is allocated to fund its provision. According to members of the organisation, they had "corresponded with the KZN government about these issues on more than one occasion." [5]. In February and March of that year, countless emails were exchanged, but it was at the march whereby Equal Education placed down the following demands.  

  • The proper implementation of the KZN Scholar Transport Policy and a much greater budget to be allocated towards this programme in the province. 
  • The adoption of a national policy on scholar transport and a conditional grant from the National Treasury will allow for the comprehensive provision of scholar transport across the country. 

National Scholar Transport Policy gets published

On 23 October 2015, after continuous correspondence with the Minister of Basic Education and under the threat of litigation by Equal Education assisted by the Equal Education Law Centre, the National Scholar Transport Policy was finally published, providing a platform to ensure that learners no longer walked long and dangerous distances to and from school. Finally, after months of campaigning, legal interventions and advocacy, students at three Nquthu high schools were provided with buses to ensure they could access schools. These schools and their allocated buses were as follows:

  • Mangeni High School – three buses
  • Esikhumbuzweni High School – two buses
  • Nhlalakahle High School – two buses

Analysis of the Policy

On 22 January 2016, Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre delivered a thorough analysis of the national policy to KwaZulu-Natal's Transport and Basic Education departments. The analysis showcased the following: 

The policy's criteria do not provide sufficient clarity or coherent mechanisms for multi-stakeholder coordination and sufficient guidance on how planning for learner transport provision will take place. Furthermore, the policy's analysis found that it does not cater for adequate monitoring mechanisms to ensure policy implementation, no timeframes or deadlines for implementation were provided, and it does not provide platforms to ensure sufficient funding and budgeting.  

Equal Education March

On the 30th and 31st of March 2016, approximately 300 members of Equal Education set forth to walk from New Hanover to Pietermaritzburg, demanding the correct implementation of the national Scholar Transport Policy. Though the walk initially consisted of EE members, they were joined by students, teachers and parents. This specific walk was viewed to be "symbolic of the long walk to school thousands of learners in KZN, and many other provinces are subjected to" [5]. Equal Education then put forward three key points that needed to be examined. They are as follows:

  • Equal Education demanded emergency relief for 11 schools in Nquthu that qualify for the scholar transport in KwaZulu-Natal  
  • Equal Education demanded the proper and full implementation of the national Scholar Transport Policy. 
  • Equal Education requested that the provincial Treasury allocate proper funding for the provision of scholar transport.  

In addition, in April of 2021, members of EE and around 50 learners began protesting outside of the Department of Education's offices in Pietermaritzburg, challenging the department to release the "final provincial Learner Transport Policy" (Ngubane, 2021).

Image of Equal Education Transport Protest in KZN. Picture: Equal Education

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre essentially tackle the needs of the struggles faced by this generation of South African citizens, and more particularly, its learners and students. By continuously engaging in the improvement of education and engaging with the government, these organisations are placed in a position" to hear the needs of the time and people" [11]


In addition, in August of 2022, IFP's KZN Provincial Spokesperson for Education, Thembeni Madlopha-Mthethwa, raised concerns about the scholar transport situation in rural areas, commenting that a total of 143 schools in northern KwaZulu-Natal found themselves battling to get learners to school due to the lack of scholar transport. Madlopha-Mthethwa said scholar transport is necessary for the right to primary education. Learners who cannot get transport suffer – particularly those in the rural areas of South Africa. She noted, "It is inexcusable that since 2012, schools in uMkhanyakude have been applying for scholar transport without success,". She further suggests, "Surely, the KZN Department of Education cannot blame lack of funds since 2012? What has it done to address the issue over the past ten years? Why has the Department not engaged with National Treasury?" 


Finally, after seven long years of continuous activism, Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) succeeded in getting the final KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Learner Transport Policy released, addressing the need for safe, reliable, government-subsidised learner transport across the province. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Role of EE and the EELC 

The concept of 'Civil Society' is subject to many debates and has diverse meanings. The idea of it has been around for centuries, as early- liberal thinkers visualised the concept as a negative space. Locke (1963) describes civil society as a contract between equals founded on voluntarism. [12] Alexis Tocqueville (1969) builds on the explanation issued by Locke and extends the concept further by introducing" the immense assemblage of associations" [13]. This can include a vast assemblage of community groups, social movements, educational groups, and workers' groups, to name a few. As such, the basis of civil society had been set forth, open to all and entirely voluntary for members. These organisations are compelled to be independent of the state, acting somewhat as 'watchdogs' to warrant the sensible use of a nation's assets and to ensure that every citizen of the country is politically equal [14]. Dahl (1998) alludes to certain norms which make democracy functional, identifying competition, accountability, participation, the rule of law, access to information, civil and political freedoms and the restrain of executive power. [14]. As such, in strengthening democracy, civil society can be measured by viewing its effectiveness in promoting and exercising these norms. 

An example is Equal Education members (Teachers, students and parents) and the Equal Education Law Centre, who persistently campaigned for a new transport policy. In scenarios like these, a civil society that is well-organised, active and, most importantly, vigorous can be essential to the citizens of a country, as it allows for the voiceless to be heard, creating a platform for citizens to be involved in the way they are governed. The case of the learner transport policy, campaigned by EE and EELC, showcases how organisations are in operation and the role they play within society. Many critics questioned whether civil society is relevant upon completing its set-out objectives. However, this case is of utmost relevance based on the examples I have highlighted. With South Africa categorised as a developing nation, the issues surrounding inequality in the land will always be rampant. As such, the role of organisations such as Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre will never die out, with work having to be continuously done to practice democratic norms, inclusive of all citizens within a democratic state. 

This example illustrates how civil society groups are independent of the state; however, they can still hold the government accountable regarding the amendment and implementation of policies set out to improve the quality of living for citizens.


[1] Finkel, S. E. (2014). The Impact of Adult Civic Education Programmes in Developing Democracies. Public Administration and Development, 34(3), 169-181.

[2] Soudien, C. (2017). Nelson Mandela: Comparative Perspectives of his Significance for Education. 10.1007/978-94-6300-908-9.


[4] Constitution of Republic of South Africa, 1996.

[5] "Our Movement". 23 September 2022.

[6] Angara, Harini (31 May 2011). "The 500 Windows Campaign: A Case Study of a Youth Movement for Educational Resources in South Africa" (PDF). InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies. UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. 7 (2). ISSN 1548-3320. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25th September 2022 – via eScholarship.

[7] Smalley, Eric (July 2014). "Fighting for Equality in Education: Student Activism in Post----apartheid South Africa" (PDF). Columbia University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2021. Retrieved 26 September 2022

[8] Hart, R. A. (1992). Children’s participation: From tokenism to citizenship. Florence, Italy: International Child Development Centre, UNICEF.

 [9] Hart, R. A. (1997). Children’s participation: The theory and practice of involving young citizens in community development and environmental care. New York: UNICEF/Earthscan.

[10] Equal Education –

[11] Mahlangu, M. (2008). Street law and its role in ensuring accessed to justice and furthering of the South African democracy.

[12] LOCKE, J. (1963). The works of John Locke. Aalen, Scientia-Verlag

[13] Anciano, F. (2021). Politial Studies 719 lecture slides, UWC Political Studies Department, 2021.

[14] Dahl, R. (1998). What is Democracy. Pp 35-43