Picture: KZN Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison

Pietermaritzburg - Political parties and others have expressed shock at a minibus taxi crash which claimed the lives of 19 people and left several others injured, many critically, near Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.

It is believed that at least 26 people were crammed into the 16-seat minibus taxi. Eighteen people died at the scene and another died soon afterwards at a nearby clinic.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC spokesman Mdumiseni Ntuli expressed "shock and devastation" at the crash near KwaXimba.

"Although details of the horrific accident remain sketchy, but it appears that a minibus travelling from KwaSwayimane, Umshwathi municipality to Durban crashed at the Umsunduzi Valley... This is indeed a sad and painful tragedy for all of us in KwaZulu-Natal," Ntuli said.

"The minibus taxi is said to have crashed off the bridge and plunged 15 metres down to an embankment. Even more concerning are the revelations that the minibus taxi may have been overloaded as 10 people [were] reported to have sustained critical injuries while 19 passed away."  

The ANC called on taxi operators to be more vigilant and adhere to the rules of the road, and take safety precautions seriously. Passengers should also be vigilant of any wrongdoing and not allow their lives to be endangered by being coerced into boarding overloaded taxis. 

"We extend our heartfelt condolences to families, relatives, and friends of the people who perished in this horrific accident. The ANC also wishes all those who were injured a speedy recovery," Ntuli said.

DA KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango said the DA was deeply saddened by the crash. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends who lost loved ones in the taxi crash. And we wish those who are injured a speedy recovery," he said.

"We would like to thank the paramedics for their speedy response in treating the passengers before they were transported to hospitals in the Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas. We applaud you for the work you do.

"We urge all motorists to please be safe and vigilant on our roads. It’s heartbreaking that we lose so many lives on our roads, yet urgent action is never taken to prevent crashes from taking place this frequently," Mncwango said.

The National Freedom Party's Ericsson Zungu also offered heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.  

In KwaZulu-Natal most accidents were caused by the bad mechanical state of minibus taxis and human error, and the NFP called on people to boycott taxis not in a good condition, Zungu said.

South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) national spokesman Jabu Mahlangu appealed to taxi drivers to drive with caution and exercise vigilance on public roads.
                        
"We wish to convey our deepest condolences to the families that lost their loved ones and wish those injured a speedy recovery," he said.

Earlier on Sunday, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said crash investigators had arrived in Pietermaritzburg to investigate the accident. The team would reconstruct the scene in an effort to determine the exact cause of the accident, RTMC spokesman Simon Zwane said.

The role of weather conditions, the quality of the road, vehicle fitness, and driver behaviour would be examined in detail to determine the exact cause of the accident. 

“It is alleged that the driver lost control of the vehicle and it crashed into a barrier on the bridge and rolled down an embankment and landed next to the Msunduzi Dam. There were 26 persons in the 16-seater minibus. The vehicle has been impounded to allow for mechanical investigations to be conducted on it,” Zwane said.

Paramedics said the minibus taxi crashed into a bridge barrier and rolled down an embankment off the Main Road in the Msunduzi Valley area near Pietermaritzburg.

ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring said paramedics were informed that members of the community had rushed about 12 injured people to a nearby clinic roughly 100 metres away. Assessments showed that five had sustained critical injuries.