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Eighteen people died in a horror collision between two buses – one carrying school pupils and the other Western Cape mourners to a funeral in the Eastern Cape – at about 6am on Saturday.
The school bus, driven by the principal of Laerskool Cradock, collided on the R61 outside Graaff Reinet with a “midi bus” apparently carrying people to a funeral in Ngcobo. The cause of the collision is unclear.
Principal Wimpie van der Merwe died in the crash, and so did at least one of the children. Four teachers were injured seriously.
The R61 stretches from Beaufort West in the Western Cape to Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal, via Graaff Reinet, Queenstown, Mthatha and Port Edward in the Eastern Cape. The accident happened on a notorious death stretch listed on an undated list of most hazardous routes for fatal crashes on the Arrive Alive website.
Eastern Cape Transport Department spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said 16 people died on the scene and two more later in the day.
The chairman of the governing body at Laerskool Cradock, Michael Lord, said he believed Van der Merwe, who was taking pupils to a sports event in Graaff Reinet, had taken “evasive action” to protect those on the bus when the other bus came over a blind rise.
“There were between 50 and 53 children on the bus and five teachers, of whom four were injured seriously.” Two of the teachers were taken to hospital in Port Elizabeth and two to Bloemfontein.
Lord said he knew of only one child – a boy from nearby Cradock Preparatory School – who had been playing on their school’s under-11 rugby team, who had died. He declined to name him.
But Arrive Alive spokesman Tshepo Machaea said he understood two children from the school bus had died. Of the 16 people who died on scene, three had been on the school bus, with the remainder from the other bus.
A total of 28 people were treated and discharged, while 14 were admitted to hospitals at Graaff Reinet, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and East London.
Lord described Van der Merwe as having been a dedicated, “hands-on and very active principal” who had often worked late.
“Teaching was his passion.”
Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, who had on Saturday been attending the funeral of 25 farm workers who died in an accident in Mpumalanga last week, left to travel straight back to the Eastern Cape.
She said that while she didn’t have all the facts, it was likely that they would find “an element of human error and possibly even negligence” in the cause of the accident.
“Accidents like these should not be happening and once again, it’s happened on public transport.”
She sent her “heartfelt condolences to the families”, and would meet the families and school personnel when she arrived.
Meanwhile, one person was killed in an accident at Three Sisters near Beaufort West when a minibus transporting Transnet workers collided head-on with a truck on Friday night.