Bonginkosi Mziwezilo, 14, is one of the seven pupils who died in Fridays bus crash in Inanda.

KwaZulu-Natal - The driver of the bus in which seven school pupils were killed on Friday was no coward, his father said on Monday.

If the 24-year-old was indeed one, he would have jumped out of the bus before it crashed to save his own life, said the man’s father.

The driver, who owns the bus, cannot be named until he appears in court.

The driver’s father blamed poor road conditions for the crash in Inanda that also left dozens of other pupils and several teachers injured. He claimed they were never told when the bus was hired that it would be used on gravel roads.

His son, who was discharged from hospital at the weekend after hurting his head and hand, is facing charges of culpable homicide, or possibly murder, depending on the results of the investigation into the horror accident.

The bus was carrying about 64 people, most of them pupils and teachers from uMzinto’s Emalangeni Junior Secondary School who were on their way to Ngoza Secondary School in Ndwedwe to play netball and soccer.

The seven teenagers who died, aged 14 to 17, were identified as Bonginkosi Mziwezilo, Sphe Msabala, Xolani Mkhize, Nobuhle Fihlani, Nokwanda Myenda and siblings Nkululeko and Siyanda Shangase.

It has been alleged that the driver failed to negotiate a bend, sending the bus hurtling 150m down an embankment.

The driver’s father said his son’s bus was in good condition after passing a roadworthy test three months ago.

He said they had all the required documents to operate a transport business and all three of the company’s six-year-old buses were maintained.

“We are not murderers,” he said. “It cannot be a mechanical problem, and he was not speeding. How can you be speeding on gear two down a gravel road?”

He said his family has been to the accident scene, and was also in mourning.

“[My son] takes school children every day from township to township and something like this has never happened before,” he said.

While many of the injured were discharged at the weekend, 26 of them, including teachers, were still in hospital, three in a critical condition and the rest regarded as stable.

Some pupils said that just before the crash, the bus had a breakdown and failed to go up an incline.

Later, after the problem was fixed, the bus was speeding downhill, and the driver failed to negotiate a bend, they said.

Explaining the breakdown, the driver’s father said the bus had to stop because the fan belt was faulty and was making a noise.

Emalangeni’s principal, Sibusiso Mpanza, said it was the first time he had hired a bus from this particular company. He said other bus companies were fully booked for the reed dance in Nongoma at the weekend.

The other pupils at the school were deeply upset by the deaths and injuries, he said, adding that the school had to cope with five teachers still in hospital.

“It is going to take some time for the situation to become normal again,” Mpanza said. “We need to go back to school fast because exams are coming up.”

On Monday, KwaZulu-Natal education superintendent-general, Nkosinathi Sishi, who visited the school with other officials, said eight psychologists were on hand to offer counselling to pupils.

A committee had also been formed to assist parents with burial costs, he said.

Parents were still to decide if they wanted a mass funeral or would bury their children separately.

Sishi expressed concern about recent fatal accidents involving pupils.

The mother of one of the victims of Friday’s crash said yesterday her son, Bonginkosi, 14, was looking forward to the soccer match in Ndwedwe.

“He said, ‘Goodbye, I will see you later, Mom’, not knowing that he was saying his final goodbyes,” said Phumzile Cele.

Two weeks ago, 10 pupils and a driver died in a bakkie accident on the R617 between Bulwer and Underberg.

Twenty-five pupils, between the ages of eight and 13, from Donnybrook Primary and Blessed Luanda Primary, were in a single cab bakkie that rolled numerous times while transporting them home after school.

It is believed that the driver lost control and the car overturned when attempting to overtake on a sharp bend. - Daily News