Framed pictures of three pupils from one family, Thapelo, Sbusiso and Nokuthula Mayisela, were displayed with others at the memorial service in Verena in Mpumalanga.
Verena – The basic education department would pull all the stops to ensure the speedy implementation of the national learner transport policy in order to improve the safety of learners’ transport system, Minister Angie Motshekga said on Thursday.

“As a department we will ensure that we intensify the monitoring of the implementation of the policy. We want to continue with the awareness programmes of the implementation of the policy,” Motshekga said speaking in Verena in Mpumalanga during the memorial service of 16 pupils and a man who died in a minibus accident that claimed 20 lives.

She said it was clear that there was a weakness in the implementation of the policy.

The accident happened near Bronkhorstspruit in Gauteng on April 21, on the R25 road on the border of Gauteng and Mpumalanga when a minibus taxi collided with a truck. The minibus burst into flames after the accident and some of the occupants burnt inside the vehicle.

A total of 18 pupils, the driver of the minibus and a general worker from Refano Primary School, who were all occupants of the minibus, died at the scene of the crash, which left seven pupils injured. The pupils were travelling to their homes in Wolvenkop and Verena from Refano Primary School and Mahlenga Secondary School.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee on Education in the Gauteng legislature, Joe Mpisi (first from left), Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Mpumalanga Education MEC Reginah Mhaule listen while Thembisile Hani Local Municipality mayor Nomsa Mtsweni (standing on the podium) speaks during the memorial service in Verena in Mpumalanga.

Motshekga appealed to the families of the people who died in the accident to be strong and believe in God. She said her department was grateful for the messages of support that continued to pour in from all walks of life.

“As the department of basic education and the entire government, we are here to bring our deepest condolences on behalf of the people of South Africa. We are crying with you, parents. The children may be gone but they will never be forgotten,” she said.

The memorial service, which was held inside a marquee erected on an open ground, was also attended by several Gauteng and Mpumalanga MECs and other officials from the two provincial governments. These included Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi, his infrastructure development counterpart Jacob Mamabolo, Mpumalanga MEC for Community Safety Pat Ngomane and his public works counterpart Sasekani Manzini.

Ngomane urged members of communities to contribute towards reducing road accidents, like preventing people from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Some family members of the people who died in the minibus taxi accident cried while others composed themselves while listening to the speakers during a memorial service in Verena.

“As a department we are saddened by accidents that claim the lives of young people,” said Ngomane.

Several family members became so emotional during and after formal proceedings emergency services workers had to lead them out of the marquee in order to compose themselves. Gospel singer Sipho Makhabane dished out music performances and consoled family members by singing a few songs, including the one entitled Ebenezer.

A distraught woman is led out of the marquee at the end of a memorial service in Verena.

Thembisile Hani Local Municipality Mayor Nomsa Mtsweni thanked all the spheres of government and various people and organisations who offered assistance since the accident occurred.

Gauteng Education department spokesman Steve Mabona said 16 pupils and a man would be buried in Wolvenkop, while two other pupils would be laid to rest in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo on Saturday. He said three injured pupils were still in hospital and four others have since been discharged.