Death of a hero: Kemraj 'Ash" Balgobin

Senseless! That’s the reaction of family members after Kemraj “Ash” Balgobin was shot dead doing what he loved best – serving the needs of the less fortunate.

The Phoenix grandfather was killed by hijackers on Thursday morning while transporting disabled children to school – two days before he was due to celebrate his 58th birthday.

“They didn’t even take the taxi he was driving. They escaped with the keys and my uncle’s firearm after shooting him,” said a distraught Vidan Maharaj.

After taking an early retirement, Balgobin bought a taxi which he used to transport children to the AM Moola Spes Nova School for the Disabled in Phoenix, north of Durban.

On Thursday morning he had pulled up outside the home of a 10-year-old disabled girl in Avoca at about 6:45am.

“My uncle’s assistant had jumped from the vehicle to fetch the child from her home when he was approached by three gunmen who demanded he give up his taxi.

He refused to give them the keys to the vehicle until the six children already in the taxi were allowed to leave.

“According to eye-witness accounts the hijackers then beat him up while he was still sitting at the wheel. They then shot him twice before fleeing. My uncle slumped over the wheel and the taxi rolled back about 20m before crashing into a fence. The terrified children in the taxi were screaming out for help.

“Many of them cannot move about without assistance which makes this whole senseless crime even harder to swallow,” said Maharaj, a police officer.

“My uncle was looking forward to celebrating his 58th birthday with a party I was going to host for him on Saturday. Instead we had to bury him.

“My uncle died an honourable man. He lived doing seva (service to God). After he retired he found fulfilment helping the elderly and disabled.”

Maharaj said Balgobin did free loads to the Rama Krishna Ashram and various religious organisations including the Shankarnath Ramayan Group in Phoenix.

AM Moolla Spes Nova school governing body chairman Premishwar Harripersad said Balgobin died a hero.

“Mr Balgobin was a hero to those children on the bus. He died in the process of saving their lives and I think that they will forever be grateful to him.”

Harripersad said the pupils were highly traumatised.

“There was a female pupil seated next to Mr Balgobin when he was shot. The blood splashed all over her uniform and she was hysterical.”

He confirmed that pupils had received counselling.

“While some pupils have returned to school, there are others who do not have transport to get to school. Mr Balgobin had been transporting children since 2009.

“They had been very close to him and they affectionately referred to him as Uncle Ash.”

Harripersad said government needed to take a firm stance against criminals.

“If they can be so cold and callous to pupils who are disabled then what chance do normal people stand in society?”

Echoing his sentiments Maharaj said a pupil on crutches stood by the coffin and burst into tears.

“He said, ‘Thank you very much Uncle Ash, you saved my life’.”

Maharaj added that post mortem results revealed that his uncle had been brutally assaulted before being shot.

“He sustained a stab wound to his back and had been hit with a brick on his head.”

With the memories still fresh in her mind, the 16-year-old girl who was being picked up when the incident took place said it would take a long time to forget the terrifying experience.

Recounting the events with her brother seated nearby, she sadly spoke of “Uncle Ash” whom she said she would dearly miss.

“The day started like any other day. Uncle Ash arrived just before 7am, and as I jumped on to the bus, we all noticed the three men walking down the road. We thought they had been passing by but when they knocked on Uncle Ash’s window, I became scared and I squatted on the bus floor, too scared to look at them.

“The next thing I heard was glass breaking and two gunshots. The two children seated next to Uncle Ash were terrified. The robbers released the [hand brake] and the bus rolled.

“Everyone was screaming and crying. It was so terrifying.”

With no transport to return to school, the teenager said she didn’t know how she would get to school.

“I am awaiting news from the principal.”

Balgobin is survived by his wife, Tharoon, two children and a grandchild. Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said no arrests had been made. - POST