“Don’t kill us! Stop!”
These were the last words that Mandla Ndlela remembers shouting before a coal train slammed into the truck that was transporting him and his fellow farmworkers to Tulloh citrus farm in Mpumalanga yesterday morning.
Speaking at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mbombela yesterday afternoon, Ndlela, 19, said the 45 workers were travelling in an enclosed truck. “The driver had stopped at the railway crossing. We heard the train hoot, but the driver moved forward. We all banged on the sides of the truck to warn him. The next thing I remember is a loud bang. I woke up to see the bodies of my friends and blood everywhere.
“Now I hear the driver has also died in this hospital.”
Mpumalanga MEC for community safety, security and liaison, Vusi Shongwe, visited the scene and said he had never seen such carnage. “I’ve never seen such a thing. Body parts were lying around. There was a head just lying there,” he said.
The visibly shaken driver of the Transnet train said he had hooted twice as per safety regulations before a bend between Hectorspruit and Malalane. “I hooted twice … but after turning the corner, I saw the truck was there and there was no way out,” said the driver, who asked not to be named. He and his assistant were alone on the train.
A farmworker who was not on the truck said the truck driver did not have a driver’s licence.
Provincial police spokesman Colonel Leonard Hlathi said police were investigating a case of culpable homicide.
Meanwhile, the Road Accident Fund has agreed to help cover the funeral costs of the 24 farmworkers who died.
A further 21 farmworkers are in a critical condition.
Tulloh farm could not be reached for comment yesterday.
MEC Shongwe has sent condolences to the bereaved families.
At the time of going to print, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba and senior Transnet officials were on their way to the scene. – African Eye News Service, Saturday Star