Durban - One year after nine maidens and two minders died in a horrific crash on their way home from the annual reed dance at one of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s palaces, their families and community are still waiting to find out the “truth” about what really happened and who was responsible.
The bus crashed on the R66 near Melmoth on the way to uMzumbe from uMkhosi woMhlanga at the king’s eNkonyeni Palace. Eleven people died and more than 60 were injured.
The 23-year-old man who had been behind the wheel at the time had been a substitute driver. The bus was one of 11 vehicles belonging to Marburg bus company Malundi Excursions, which is owned by Shikar Singh, son of IFP MP Narend Singh.
Shikar told the Daily News the designated driver had been arrested for drunk driving before the crash and had not reported back to work. He did not know the replacement driver, who he said had not been in contact with the company since.
Inkosi Sfiso Shinga, of the Ndelu tribal authority in uMzumbe where the maidens came from, said on Thursday he was anxious to hear the truth about what led to the loss and injury of “his” children.
Shinga’s daughter had also attended the reed dance last year, but returned with him in his car.
“As tribal leader in the area, these are all my children, so it pains me not knowing or being able to tell their parents how and why their children were killed or injured,” he said. “We will not be appeased until we hear from a court whether it was a mechanical fault, that of the driver or whatever the case was.”
NPA spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson-Kara said the police had handed over the docket on the investigation into the crash, and it was now up to the director of public prosecutions to make a decision about prosecution.
Shinga said the people of Ndelu had decided long ago not to let the crash sully the ceremony, or associate it with the death of their children.
The 30th reed dance takes place next weekend.
Ncamisile Duma, whose daughter Hlengiwe was killed in the crash, said should her youngest daughter, 11, decide to attend the ceremony when she was older, she would not stand in her way.
“We cannot live in fear because life is unpredictable and we cannot rob her of the opportunity to observe her culture because of our own fear.”
The 11 victims were remembered last weekend when a memorial stone was unveiled in Ndelu. Members of the royal family attended.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture has also organised a memorial at the scene of the crash before the maidens present their reeds to the king on Friday.
Buses and drivers transporting maidens to the annual reed dance in Nongoma will be subjected to stringent checks, those involved in the logistics of the event have promised.
Trevor Khanyile, spokesman for the uMzumbe Municipality, which had hired the bus to ferry girls to and from the South Coast town to Nongoma last year, said they would subject bus companies to strict criteria to ensure safety.
Khanyile said three buses would transport 165 maidens to this year’s reed dance. He said the municipality had been receiving quotations until on Thursday and the bus company would be appointed on Friday.
Khanyile could not say whether Malundi had sent in a quotation, but if it had, it would be considered like all other companies.
He said the buses would be subjected to roadworthiness checks and once loaded, they would be weighed, and further safety checks would be done before departure. There would also be stops or comfort breaks every 100km of the 400km trip so that the driver could rest, he said.
Department spokesman Lethukuthula Mtshali said there had been planning meetings with municipalities in preparation for the event.
He said MEC Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha had also instructed that drivers be “scanned” to check if they had been previously involved in a road crash. Their driving licences and permits would also be verified, said Mtshali.
“As a department, we have consulted with every stakeholder relevant to road safety so that every measure is put in place to ensure that transport is in a good state, and we have also been assured by police and traffic officials that they will be doing periodic checks along the way.”