Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) awards a GLAD[1] to City Press for publishing a letter written by learners to MEC of Education in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) thereby shining a light on a group of children who decided to hold the powerful to account.

The letter with the title, “We are tired of walking” (20/10/2019, p.3) was written by learners from various schools in KZN to the Education MEC highlighting the lack of school transport in KZN and the plight of walking long distances to school.

“Many pupils have been raped and assaulted because they have to walk long distances to school and some have even dropped out because of this issue. Our journeys include crossing dangerous obstacles, such as dams, rivers and unsafe roads,” the letter reads in part.

According to the published letter, the pupils came together to write it because the education department had missed the promised 31st December, 2018 deadline of adopting the National Scholar Transport Policy. The letter reports that the policy which was pushed for reportedly by Equal Education, which the authors of the letter are members of, came as a result of pupils speaking up about the lack of transport in KZN. The pupils are demanding the adoption of the policy, “sufficient and safe transport, with well-trained drivers … what alternative types of transport have been considered”, the proper distribution of transport per school to avoid overcrowding which they highlight causes road accidents, and that the provided transport should cater for pupils with disabilities etc. According to the letter, the learners believe that the KZN Education department has failed to show a sense of urgency when it comes to addressing the problem.

A photograph showing pupils walking in their school uniforms with a caption about those from a certain village having to walk a distance of 10 kilometres to school accompanies the letter. A list of the authors also accompanies the letter.

MMA commends City Press for the picture by Muntu Vilakazi because, despite the letter being about lack of a service, the picture portrays learners as people who are still determined to get an education even though they have to walk long distances to school.

The publishing of this letter helps to amplify children’s voices in the media. According to MMA’s media monitoring report findings, children are rarely given an opportunity to express their views in the media. Only 8.2% of coverage on children has children’s voices meaning that children are only speaking in that percentage of stories about them.[2] City Press publishing the letter is a great opportunity accorded to the children involved to ensure that their voices and demands are heard. We hardly see children’s letters published in the media demanding services from government. Therefore, City Press should be commended for this.

Furthermore, this letter shows an empowering portrayal of the children involved as activists for change. This is contrary to how children are commonly portrayed in the media. MMA’s monitoring report shows that children are often seen as just children without agency or helpless victims. This letter challenges this by showing that children or pupils can be portrayed differently according to the diverse roles they take up in their communities.

MMA applauds City Press for publishing the letter and portraying the learners as children with agency. We implore on the publication to continue portraying children in such a manner.

By Musa Rikhotso

[1] A GLAD is awarded when the media report positively on children