The deaths of 27 people in an accident in KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday night has shocked acting president Jeff Radebe, the presidency said.
This was the third collision to have claimed many lives in just a few days, said presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj.
The latest deaths occurred when an articulated truck hit four fully-laden taxis and a Volkswagen Golf on the corners of Fields Hill (M13) and Richmond roads in Pinetown shortly before 7pm, according to paramedics.
At the weekend, 10 people - including eight girls - died when the bus carrying them home from the annual reed dance at the Nyokeni Palace overturned and hit steel barriers on the R66, near Eshowe. More than 60 people were injured.
KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC Willies Mchunu said at the time that investigations had shown that the bus was speeding and had faulty brakes.
Seven more lives were lost in an accident on the N2 between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
“The loss of such a high number of people, some of them breadwinners is painful and has affected so many households negatively,” Radebe said in a statement.
“We urge road users especially drivers to exercise caution on the roads especially when carrying passengers.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and relatives of the deceased and wish those in hospital a speedy recovery.”
Maharaj said Radebe had briefed President Jacob Zuma, who is attending the G20 Summit in Russia.
ER24 spokesman Werner Vermaak said at least 32 people were injured Ä 10 of them critically Ä in the Pinetown crash.
Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said most of them were taken to the RK Khan and Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospitals.
Botha suggested that the number of dead might initially have been overestimated from the scene, and that the figure could drop to 22. However there was no confirmation of this.
Transport Minister Dipuo Peters has ordered a high-level investigation into the crash, her department said in a statement.
Peters extended her condolences to the families and friends of those who died and wished the survivors a speedy recovery, strength and resilience. She would visit them on Friday, her department said.
Peters said road accidents were costing the country R306 billion a year and that grater attention needed to be paid to the policing of moving violations, such as dangerous overtaking and general reckless or negligent driving.
“No traffic transgression, no matter how minor, should be left unpunished by law enforcement officers. Any officer who lets an offender pass without punishment is a potential murderer for his/her irresponsible action could cost lives,” she said.
KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate spokeswoman Zinhle Mngomezulu said that the Pinetown accident occurred when the brakes failed on a truck belonging to Evergreen Transport.
It took the off-ramp from the M13 at the bottom of Fields Hill and crashed into the four minibus taxis and a car at the intersection with Richmond Road.
It came to a standstill about 30 metres from the intersection.
Paramedics from various services arrived to find people and debris scattered across the scene.
Witness told them they had seen people flung from the vehicles as they were hit and then dragged by the truck.
The eThekwini Fire Brigade used the Jaws-of-life to extract some of the injured and the dead from the mangled wreckage of the taxis.
Paramedics roped in bystanders to help hold drip bags for some of the injured.
The M13, down Fields Hill in the direction of Durban, was expected to remain closed until Friday morning to allow crash scene investigators to carry out their work.
Comment could not be obtained from the police.
Mchunu, who went to the scene as soon as he heard what had happened, said the truck driver was in police custody for, among other things, reckless driving.
KwaZulu-Natal acting premier Senzo Mchunu said a team was set up on Wednesday to come up with measures to curb road deaths.
“We never anticipated that something of this magnitude could come so soon after 1/8the 3/8 accident at the weekend (in Melmoth)...,” he said.
“We are counting the numbers of people we, as a province are losing as a result of road accidents, and they happen so soon after the other. We have no words to express this but to say we are shocked and deeply saddened by such road carnage,” he said.
He called on the people of the province to unite in prayer for the families of those who had died, and said the government would offer support to their families and to the survivors.