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Durban - Bodies, beaded necklaces and skirts strewn along a section of the R66 highway near Melmoth marked a tragic end to the annual Reed Dance at the Enyokeni Palace, in Nongoma.
Seven maidens on their way home to uMzumbe, near Hibberdene on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, two minders and the bus driver were killed in the crash at about 5pm on Sunday.
More than 60 others were injured and taken to the Eshowe and Ngwelezane hospitals in Empangeni.
KZN Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesman, Kwanele Ncalane, said the driver had lost control of the bus and smashed into the barriers. “Some of the passengers were thrown out of the bus,” he said.
He said the bus overturned at the R66 and R34 intersection in Melmoth.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Willies Mchunu, has ordered an investigation into the crash.
“A specialised team has been instructed to investigate the cause of the accident, the state of the driver and the roadworthiness of the bus,” Mchunu said.
The accident scene extended for at least 100m. The left side of the bus had scraped along the barriers on the R66 just before the Nkwalini turn-off, before it overturned.
Bodies, beads and personal effects were spread out along the 100m strip.
An official at the scene speculated that some of the girls that were killed may have also jumped out of the windows.
Parts of the bus interior, including curtains and cushions, lay strewn on the roadside.
The bus had been hired from a private company by UMzumbe Municipality in the Ugu district, to take their maidens to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s palace.
Speaking from the scene of the accident, uMzumbe mayor, Sydney Gumede, said he had also attended the Reed Dance and had left before the bus.
“I had just arrived home when I got the call about the accident. I had to turn around and come back to the scene,” he said.
He was accompanied by the deputy mayor Nompilo Mweshe and Speaker SR Ngcobo, as well as the corporate communications director Nkanyiso Cele.
Gumede said last week that the municipality had hosted a function attended by about 4 000 maidens.
“I’m so sorry for what happened,” Gumede said.
Mweshe said about 240 of their maidens had attended the Reed Dance, travelling in about four buses. Some of the buses had been hired by the Arts and Culture Department, but the bus that had crashed was hired by the municipality.
Municipality officials had a list of all the passengers on the bus, he said.
More than 30 vehicles from emergency services at municipalities, including Melmoth, Eshowe, Empangeni and Gingindlovu were in attendance. Ambulances, traffic and fire services were also at the scene.
RTI officials were also present, as well as senior police officers from Empangeni, Eshowe and Melmoth.
Also at the scene was KZN MEC for Arts and Culture, Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha, and Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
Many officials also visited the hospital.
A delegation led by Sibhidla-Saphetha visited Eshowe Hospital.
Several of the less seriously injured maidens, still dressed in traditional Zulu cotton skirts, sat among the patients in the casualty section.
The Daily News was ordered to leave the hospital.
Several large black cars with tinted windows and B registrations drew up at the back entrance of the hospital just before the journalist was ordered to leave.
It was not clear who the visitors were.
The mayor of Zululand, Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi, said she was shocked and saddened to learn of the accident.
“When parents released their children to participate in the ceremony, little did they know that they were saying their last goodbyes to their children,” she said.
In a statement on Monday morning, the Zulu Royal Household said it was deeply saddened by the worst disaster to have hit the Reed Dance.
Senior members of the royal household visited the scene of the accident and collected information and details that may have led to the crash.
It called on all South Africans to support the families of the victims through prayer and emotional support.
The event had been organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture. The reed dance is held every year, over the first weekend in September, and attracts maidens from all over the country.
Additional reporting Nkululeko Nene and Sapa