Just the other day, Precious Ramabulana’s parents sent her to a place of learning, only for her to meet her untimely death.
Today it is 15-year-old Laticia Princes Jansen, who, in the name of learning, has fallen victim to the violence against women and children that is plaguing the country.
While Ramabulana died at the hands of a rapist in unsecured private student accommodation, Jansen was, according to reports, the victim of unknown criminals, after she was failed by the scholar transport system.
Many more young people have fallen prey to acts of barbarism and criminality against the most vulnerable in society: women and children.
While lamenting the Jansen story with a female colleague, she appeared gripped by fear and could not help but express her constant worry over the safety of her six-year-old child, who is also reliant on scholar transport.
Indeed, the loss of a child’s life, especially under these circumstances, is a source of pain for all upright members of society.
These events grip our collective consciousness with fear, robbing us of the social liberties we should be enjoying in peace time.
These are liberties that many have suffered, and even died, fighting for.
It is as if South Africa has moved from apartheid to “criminalheid”.
Is there any end in sight of this new form of oppression?
Yes, I must call it oppression if, of all institutions, the institution of education has become a theatre of barbarism and criminality.
I need not repeat in this article the important role that education plays in society.
One can only imagine a situation where people have to opt for home schooling, for fear of having their children abducted and brutally murdered when they are away at school.
As things stand, the education system is among the greatest symbols and sources of inequality, robbing middle-class parents of their hard-earned income to pay for private-school education.
What if home schooling became the new trend in the name of self-preservation? What kind of a society would we have become?
If the state is not going to guarantee the safety of all its citizens, wherever they may be, let schools and other institutions of learning be the one place where it can do so.
We cannot allow the delicate process of teaching and learning to be laced with fear – no! Not when economies the world over are becoming knowledge-based.
We must safeguard the education system with everything we have – including political will – if we are to be left with anything worthy.
Political will is all we need to solve this problem.
This is not about the political will to catch every criminal mind and lock them up in jail before they can commit a crime – because this is not practically attainable.
What is practically attainable, and within our disposal, is technology.
Countries such as Russia have a national education management system that safeguards not only its children while at school, but also the quality of education they receive.
We have, as a country, lost the debate about the quality of our public-school education.
Let us not lose the debate about safety in our education system.
In fact, let us use this debate to reclaim the debate about the quality of education in public schools, in which the majority of our pupils find themselves.
Surely on scholar transport, there is no reason that each bus or minibus cannot be equipped with either a biometric system or RFID scanners, or a system whereby each child can scan themselves in and out of the bus with a fingerprint or a tag to monitor their pickup and drop-off to and from school.
Such a system can also send alerts to parents, keeping them informed of their children’s whereabouts and reporting exceptions to relevant authorities.
Similarly, children could be tracked on entering and leaving school premises, and even classes.
Had Jansen’s grandmother known that she did not make it on to the school bus – through an automated alert – she would not have waited an entire day thinking the child was at school.
She would have acted immediately – hopefully, before the would-be attackers could have their way with the child.
This is not imaginary technology.
Institutions such as the University of the Free State (QwaQwa campus) already uses this technology to track the movements of students between residences and the campus – to the benefit of the students, university management and transporters.
Thanks to an app, students can see when the bus is approaching, while management pays transporters for actual trips they have made.
And the transporters can access onboard data, such as driver behaviour, fuel consumption and actual work done.
Because of the system’s transparency, they also receive their payment on time as there are no unnecessary billing disputes.
So, what is our government waiting for? Your guess is as good as mine.
We do not know how many more deaths like Ramabulana’s and Jansen’s must occur before our leaders say: “Enough is enough,” and act.
One life lost is one too many.
There are many solution providers and entrepreneurs waiting in the wings to assist government when it decides to act and deploy technologies to render scholar transport safe.
If scholar transport is left in this state, many a criminal will continue to prey on our vulnerable children and rob our country of unrealised talent such as that possessed by Ramabulana and Jansen.
May their blood kindle the consciousness of our leaders so that they move with urgency to guarantee a future for the many children who depend on what is currently unsafe scholar transport.
And may the souls of these treasured children of ours rest in peace.
Miyelani Holeni is a group chief adviser at Ntiyiso Consulting Group, owner of Tickipay Payment Services, which also supplies scholar transport technology