Johannesburg - A Soweto mother is yet to bury her son who was killed in a horrific train crash seven months ago. She accuses the rail authorities of not assisting her family to find closure.
Twenty-four-year Gift Mathe was one of 24 Shosholoza Meyl passengers who died in the Free State after a train crashed into a truck and burst into flames on impact at a level crossing between Hennenman and Kroonstad in January.
The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) said at the time that it remained “committed to ensuring that every missing family member is accounted for” - saying it would use DNA testing to accomplish this.
A distraught Lydia, Gift’s mother, said she had to resort to conducting her own search for her son.
This ordeal has also had a debilitating effect on Gift’s older sister, Kelebogile, who watched helplessly as her brother was engulfed in flames moments before dying on that tragic morning.
Lydia said she had received scant help from Prasa in locating her son’s remains, claiming officials had been “rude and unwilling” to assist her, which, she said, increased her agony.
So frantic is her search for her son that Lydia said she uses her own money to travel between Gauteng and the Free State, trolling hospitals and mortuaries in the hope of finally locating Gift.
Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said 21 of the 24 people who died during the crash had been identified, released and buried by their respective families.
She said the three outstanding bodies had been delayed due to the pathologists’ processes, and DNA sampling was continuing.
On Lydia’s struggles, Zenani said Prasa had arranged counselling for the family and had told them about the scientific identification process.
“The DNA sampling was done from the mother, sister and his (Gift’s) son. We are currently awaiting the results. The process was explained to the family by the pathologists.
“Ms Mathe was even taken to the pathologist laboratory for her to get a detailed explanation,” Zenani said.
But Lydia said Prasa was “engaged in bald-faced lies” about explaining processes to her, saying she was the one visiting the agency’s Park Station offices in Joburg regularly in search of answers.
“It’s very expensive for me to leave my home and travel to their offices to find out whether my son’s remains have been positively identified. But very soon Prasa will know who I am. I’m not going to play anymore,” Lydia said.
“These last few months have been excruciatingly painful. The pain I’m in is not getting any better at all. I believe that my soft and kind-hearted nature was the reason Prasa did not take my plight seriously. Other people who lost their loved ones at the crash would arrive at Prasa’s offices and be harsh and swear at officials. I’m not like that. I prefer using my humanity when dealing with other people. The question I want to ask Prasa is: If I can find Gift on my own and lay him to rest, what would their response be to me?” Lydia asked.
Her views about the last few months being traumatic were echoed by her daughter Kelebogile, who witnessed her brother burning to death.
Kelebogile, her five-year-old daughter and Gift were on their way back to Joburg from Bloemfontein, where they had spent the December holidays at their family home.
The 30-year-old mother sustained serious injuries, which she said were healing slowly, but added that the pain of not burying her brother, as well as seeing her mother in distress, was too much to bear.
Kelebogile acknowledged that Prasa had organised counselling for the family after the crash, but said this didn’t help much because Gift had not been buried.
“Until such a time that we are able to bury Gift, maybe I will begin to accept what happened. For now I’m still not well,” she said.