Green light for Safe Schools South Africa
As the traffic lights were switched on for the first time on the Jeff Masemola highway, it was the children of the local school, Sivile Primary who gave the loudest cheer.
The introduction of a safe crossing at Sivile in May 2015 was the result of 12 months of hard work on the Safe Schools project by a team led by South African injury prevention NGO ChildSafe. The installation of the safe road infrastructure, means that for the first time, the 1,150 schoolchildren of Sivile are now able to reach their classes safely.
Standing at the new crossing with the children and teachers was Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, and global road safety campaigner Zoleka Mandela. Speaking at a ribbon cutting ceremony to launch the new infrastructure on 27 May, she said: “Until the Safe Schools project began, there was little on the roads to offer protection. Now we have a safe crossing. It sounds a simple solution, but it is a life-saver. The children in this community had demanded action. They were afraid to walk to school. They called for protection on the roads. This project demonstrates just what can be achieved here in South Africa and shows what’s needed to protect our children everywhere around the world.”
The Safe Schools pilot project has been driven forward by a strong coalition comprising the private sector with philanthropic support from the FIA Foundation, and global expertise provided by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP). As principal donor, Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Johnson & Johnson has been at the forefront providing essential catalytic funding. Corporates Worley Parsons and Iveco have also supported the project.
This external support has enabled ChildSafe to coordinate with local partners to implement the project which has successfully combined an innovative road safety education package developed by Sesame Workshop in South Africa (Takalani Sesame) with infrastructure improvements implemented by the local authority, City of Cape Town. Monitoring and evaluation has been provided by the Medical Research Council of South Africa.
The crossing at Sivile is the first major result of the Safe Schools pilot project which was launched a year ago at Sivile, a school located in Khayelitsha, one of the Western Cape’s most economically disadvantaged communities. As with many similar deprived areas, there was little adequate road safety provision for both the children and the community as a whole. Within the neighbourhood, the Jeff Masemola highway was notorious. Cars, buses and trucks speeding at 90 km/h, with nothing to protect the children on the main route from the shacks of the township on one side, through to the smaller, lower speed road network surrounding the school on the other.
In the community, accounts of tragedy on the Jeff Masemola road are all too common. In research carried out by the Safe Schools project coordinators, more than 15% of children attending Sivile reported that they had suffered road traffic injuries and over 60% said that vehicles on the Jeff Masemola drove too fast, at times making it difficult for them to cross to reach their school.
The International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) had analysed the Jeff Masemola highway, providing strong data to back up these accounts. iRAP concluded that the main point on the road at which hundreds of children crossed to school each day had a ‘one star’ safety rating, representing a significant threat of fatality and injury for pedestrians. Assisted pro-bono by engineering firm Worley Parsons, iRAP made recommendations for a signalised pedestrian crossing at Apollo Way, the main crossing point for the schoolchildren. The assessment calculated an 85% reduction in risk of road traffic injury to pedestrians crossing the Jeff Masemola at this point.
Data from a ‘Conflict Analysis’, an observational study recording instances of children placed in harms’ way while attempting to cross the road, found 39 conflict incidents between pedestrians and vehicles during the peak hours of the school day.
The case for an intervention made by the project was persuasive and the City of Cape Town authorities responded. The project directly leveraged an €86,000 investment by the City of Cape Town across Sivile and its sister schools, Imbasa and ACJ Phakade. Sivile’s signalised crossing is the first to be implemented, with work completed in May 2015 and the other schools will follow later in the year.
The initiative is a strong example of how external start-up funding can catalyse more sustained investment in road safety by public authorities. This is all the more impressive given the high levels of deprivation and difficult working conditions for the stakeholders at the project sites, some of the most economically disadvantaged communities in South Africa's Western Cape.
The first phase of the Safe Schools project will be finalised towards the end of 2015 when the City of Cape Town completes the installation of the new infrastructure at the other pilot project schools. But this is just the start. In Western Cape itself, further scaled-up road safety work for schools in the province is already planned. And for South Africa as a whole, the Safe Schools model developed and demonstrated over the past year is informing nationwide policy work on schools road safety.
National policy planning has begun following the UNICEF-FIA Foundation partnership on child road injury prevention and over the coming months, work will be taken forward. As highlighted in the recent ‘Safe to Learn’ UNICEF-FIA Foundation joint report, the strategy is to develop a scaled-up and sustainable approach offering improved protection on the route to school, safe access to education and a reduction in child road injury.