Three blobs of charred flesh were all that remained of the occupants of a burnt-out BMW.

They were among eight victims of a horrific accident early on Sunday on the N3 between Villiers and Warden in the Free State involving two cars and a bus. Four others were injured.

The BMW first collided with a Ford Sierra - in which five of the seven occupants also died - and then a bus, both travelling in the opposite direction.

It was the third of four major accidents on South African roads since New Year's Eve, claiming at least 26 lives and raising concern that claims of a safer festive season on South African roads than in previous years are premature. Final figures will be available on Wednesday.

At least two of the accidents were caused by problems highlighted by traffic authorities - pedestrians, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The causes of the other two accidents had yet to be established.

On Friday night, six people - comprising three generations of the Mkwebane family, including a two-month-old baby - were killed when their bakkie was struck from behind by a speeding BMW and plunged off the N1 freeway between the William Nicol Drive on-ramp and the Ben Schoeman Highway off-ramp, north of Johannesburg.

Only three people survived the accident, two of whom were seriously injured.

The driver of the BMW was due to appear in the Randburg Magistrate's Court today on charges of culpable homicide and drunk driving.

On New Year's Eve, eight British tourists lost their lives when the driver of the minibus in which they were travelling swerved to avoid an apparently mentally disturbed pedestrian near Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal.

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport's findings regarding the accident were to be placed on record with the police on Monday, departmental spokesperson Rajen Chinaboo said on Sunday.

In the fourth accident, shortly after 7pm on Sunday night, a bus plunged 600m down an embankment in Chatsworth, near Durban, before crashing through an informal settlement and overturning. At least four people were killed, 29 were hospitalised and another 100 were treated for injuries.

No further details were available at the time of going to press.

At about 6am on Sunday, 35km from Villiers, motorist Johan Green, 36, and his 10-year-old daughter Mineque were the only occupants of their Sierra to survive when it was struck by an oncoming BMW, which had drifted into their lane on the N3. Five members of the Green family were killed.

"Strangely, the Ford Sierra did not overturn and yet five people died. The left side of the car was completely damaged, while the driver's side was slightly dented," police said.

The BMW first struck the Sierra and was deflected into the path of a bus travelling alongside the Sierra, according to witnesses. Caught under the bus, it exploded, killing all three occupants.

Superintendent Thabo Ramohotsi, who had been among the first police officers to arrive at the scene, said only "three little pieces of flesh" remained of the BMW's occupants.

Eastern Free State police said the Botswana-registered BMW had been travelling in the direction of Gauteng, while the other two vehicles were headed in the opposite direction.

Johan and Mineque Green were first taken to Frankfort Hospital and later transferred to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. A Netcare spokesperson at Milpark Hospital described their condition as serious but stable.

The bus, belonging to Mpendle Bus Service, was carrying only driver D Mbanjwa and his assistant, J S Mkhize. They sustained serious injuries and were taken to hospital.

Commenting on the latest accidents, Arrive Alive's general manager for land, transport and safety regulation, Wendy Watson, said: "The authorities are doing everything they can. You can't have a policeman on every corner."

Up to December 28, there had been 10 percent fewer road fatalities than in the same period in 2002.

Other accidents reported at the weekend include the following:

  • North West Transport MEC Phenye Vilakazi has been discharged from Ferncrest Hospital in Rustenburg after a car accident in which he sustained a broken rib and minor bruises on Saturday. The accident occurred when his car skidded and struck an electricity pole during heavy rain.

  • The father of a nine-year-old boy might face charges after it was discovered that the child had been driving his father's bakkie on a Bloemfontein farm on Friday when a labourer's son fell off the back, hitting his head and dying instantly.