Youth Day: What the struggle to access education looks like in 2016

On the morning of June 16, 1976, thousands of black students went on a protest rally from their schools to Orlando Stadium. They were protesting against an official order which made Afrikaans compulsory in black township schools throughout the country. The use of local languages was prohibited in these schools whilst the constitution supported that Afrikaans and English be made the official languages of the country.

The rally was meant to be a peace protest with the intentions to plea with government not to make Afrikaans compulsory in schools. Things got out of control when the police were called in to disperse the crowds and riots broke out. Hundreds of students were killed as a results. This day is remembered in South Africa every year on June 16, as Youth Day.

In 1976, the youth of South Africa were fighting for education. Today, over 11 million youth in South Africa are still fighting to access education. 

Research by Statistics South Africa indicates that 11 million out of a possible 17 million students in South Africa walk to school, with ‘walking all the way’ being the primary means of travel. Of students walking to school, half a million walk for more than an hour– up to 6 km each way– thus impacting concentration and learning ability.

Over 60% of students who walk to school in South Africa are in the lowest income group and rural students (8.1%) are more likely than urban (3%) or metropolitan (2.7%) students to walk more than 60 minutes to school.

The challenge of distance results in increased tardiness, frequent absenteeism, exhaustion and often the complete withdrawal of the child from the education system.

Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.

We followed one child on his trip to school in rural Limpopo to see what the struggle to access education looks like today.

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This is Mutemi. He is 13 years old and attends school in rural Limpopo. He was one of 122 learners at his school of 568 who received a bicycle in June 2015. He agreed to let us follow him for a day to how his bicycle helps him better access education and achieve his dreams.

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Mutemi wakes up at 5:00am before the sun even comes up, to do his chores before going to school. He baths, makes his bed and makes his own breakfast each morning.

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Mutemi leaves home at 6am when he walks to school and 6:30am when he uses his bicycle.

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With his bicycle Mutemi arrives at school by 7:20. This means he is on time for his classes and alert to learn for the day.

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After spending the day in class Mutemi prepares to walk or ride the 4km route home again.

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Electricity is expensive so when Mutemi arrives home he rushes to do his homework before the sunsets. He tells us Maths and Science are his favourite subjects because he hopes to be a doctor one day.

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“My life is better with a bicycle. My bicycle means I can get fit and when I go to school the trip is easy and I am less tired. I like school because it is our future.” – Mutemi

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Thanks to your incredible generosity Mutemi and other children like him have bicycles today which makes accessing education easier.
Find out more or support our work at bicycleschangelives.org

Photos: Donovon Thorne