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KwaZulu-Natal - The owner of a bakkie crammed with 25 pupils – 10 of whom died when it overturned on the R612 near Ixopo this week – is a policeman who claimed on Thursday, that he had no idea such transportation was illegal.
Bhekinkosi Mbhele, a constable at the Bulwer police station, was on duty on Tuesday night when he was called out to the accident scene, between Ixopo and Donnybrook.
His driver, Sifiso Ngubo, 26, who died along with the 10 pupils of the Blessed Luanda and Donnybrook primary schools, was believed to have been speeding when he overtook another vehicle in the single cab bakkie. It was his second day on the job.
Mbhele said he started transporting pupils because there was a demand for the service from parents.
“They came up to me in January asking me to assist in this regard. I knew that the bakkie was full and had already informed the parents that as of next month I would only be transporting Donnybrook pupils,” he said.
“When I was called on the radio about the accident, something in my heart told me it was my children. My colleague and I went there and when we got there my knees just became weak,” he said.
“Those children were like my own children. They loved me and I loved them. I just wish that I had died instead of them. I wish it was me and not so many lives.”
said parents had put their trust in him, and he did not know how to face them.
“I got this bakkie about a year ago and if I had known this would happen, I would have never bought it,” he said. “All I can say is I am sorry. I feel hopeless.”
He said he did not know that transporting children in a bakkie was illegal.
Ngubo’s aunt, Glen Ngcobo, said the family were shattered by the death of so many people.
“The thing about this community is that we are all close. We all know each other,” she said. “In fact, most parents here grew up together, so this is a real tragedy. A dark cloud has hit us.”
Ngcobo said her nephew had planned to drive for Mbhele for only two days.
“He was waiting for his uncle to organise him a job as a taxi driver,” she said. “He was not a wild boy. He went to varsity and came back with a diploma in public relations… It was an accident and we are really sorry that he had been driving at the time.”
Ngubo’s father had also died on August 21 a few years ago.
Dudu Dlamini, the grandmother of six-year-old Aphelele Zondi, who died in the accident, said on Thursday that she did not blame either the driver or the bakkie owner.
“In life, accidents happen and in this area we rely on bakkies to get around, because the roads are not always good,” she said. “It would not be fair for us to point fingers. The children are gone, even Sifiso. Let him rest in peace, too. He was our son.”
Dlamini said it concerned her that Ngubo’s family are struggling to raise money for his funeral. “His mother is struggling financially and needs the help.”
Local resident Hlela Mnguni
said transporting pupils in bakkies was a way of life in rural areas.”If you have been exposed to something for too long, it becomes normal.
KwaZulu-Natal education superintendent-general Nkosinathi Sishi said this week that the transportation of pupils was governed by regulations and policies, and education district officials had to first approve transportation requests.
Provincial police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said investigations of the accident were continuing. - Daily News