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Durban - The driver of the bus in which eight Zulu maidens and two minders died when the vehicle crashed after the annual reed dance was “not authorised” to drive it.
“He was not supposed to be there,” said Ashikhar Singh, a member of the close corporation that owns the bus operator, Malundi Excursions.
Singh told the Daily News on Thursday that the 23-year-old man, who lost control of the bus between Melmoth and Eshowe, was not employed by the operator.
The driver, who was also injured in the accident, had worked only a few times driving smaller buses for a few hours for the Marburg-based business some months ago, said Singh.
He said the driver was “not authorised to drive the bus”.
Singh said the man was instructed by police to drive the bus after the designated driver was arrested in KwaNongoma for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.
The arrested driver had not been working for Malundi for long, but was about to be made a permanent employee, he said.
“He was an experienced driver and had undergone a test drive, reference checking and training. We had no incidents with him.”
Singh believes the crash driver was told to drive the bus because he had a valid code 14 driving licence and a public driving permit.
“He must have made friends with the drivers when he temped here and they may have asked him to tag along.”
Attempts to determine the whereabouts of the arrested driver and circumstances of his arrest have been futile. No answers have been forthcoming from the police and National Prosecuting Authority.
Singh said he had not heard from the driver either.
“He must be scared, but if and when he comes in he will be dismissed.”
Singh said he had not been informed when his driver was arrested.
“If I was notified, I would have got a spare driver I know and trust to take over the bus,” he said, explaining that a relief driver had been in another bus about 45 minutes ahead of the one that crashed.
Six Malundi buses were hired by the Umzumbe Municipality to transport maidens from the South Coast for the annual event.
The bus that crashed had passed a roadworthiness test two months ago.
“The trip to Nongoma is about 400km, it’s a really long way so we would not have let an unroadworthy bus travel that distance if we picked up anything wrong,” said Singh.
However, according to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport, preliminary investigations have found that the bus, which was allegedly speeding, had faulty brakes.
Singh said the operator was co-operating fully with the Road Traffic Inspectorate.
He said the operator’s insurance company was also investigating the cause of the accident.
Singh said they were extremely sorry about the tragic loss of life and injuries and offered to transport the bereaved families to the mass funeral tomorrow organised by the provincial government and the Zulu royal family in Umzumbe.
However, Umzumbe Municipality’s spokesman, Trevor Khanyile, said a meeting would be held with the bus operator today and that buses would be inspected before the offer was accepted.
Meanwhile, Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesman, Kwanele Ncalane, said a team of experts had been put together to investigate when last the crash bus was tested.