Pietermaritzburg - A bakkie carrying 24 primary school pupils crashed over the edge of a road and down into a house, killing seven of the children.
It was another horrific accident involving schoolchildren being ferried on the back of a bakkie – once again bringing the transporting of children into sharp focus.
Bakkies are not meant to be used for transporting children – but the practice continues, with horrifying consequences.
In Wednesday’s crash the bakkie with the pupils from Fezokuhle Primary School in Pietermaritzburg careered through a garden wall in Imbali Township before smashing into a house with such force that part of it collapsed.
It appeared the driver lost control on a bend. No one in the house was hurt, but most of the children were flung from the bakkie.
They had just been fetched from school at about 2.30pm.
Four girls and two boys died after being trapped in the wreckage under falling debris from the house. On Wednesday night a seventh child died in hospital.
The injured children and the driver, a woman, were in hospital.
Road Traffic Inspectorate spokeswoman Zinhle Mngomezulu said on Wednesday night that it was not the normal driver driving the bakkie, but it was her daughter.
Investigators were trying to establish her age and whether she had a driver’s licence.
Netcare 911’s spokesman Chris Botha said that when paramedics arrived they found the driveway full of debris and the twisted frame of the bakkie.
Those taken to hospital “sustained injuries ranging from critical to serious”.
Neighbours, alerted to the accident by the children’s screams, ran to the scene.
Three hours later, neighbours still lined the slope above the house. Their shock, grief and sadness was palpable.
People discussed how the bakkie could have crashed.
The parents of the dead identified the bodies and left.
Other relatives remained, some crying uncontrollably – so emotional that they could not bring themselves to even say the names of the loved ones they had lost.
House owner Lungile Ngobeni sat on a chair in the yard – in shock and trying to come to terms with the loss of lives on her property.
The lounge, kitchen and a bedroom of her modest three-roomed abode were rubble. The part of the building that remained looked unstable and ready to collapse.
She said she, her husband and three children would have to find somewhere else to sleep last night.
KwaZulu-Natal Education Department spokesman Sihle Mlotshwa conveyed MEC Peggy Nkonyeni’s deepest condolences to the families of the dead, teachers and fellow pupils.
“Her prayers are with them.”
He said the department had done a lot to ensure that pupils were safe while travelling by creating the appropriate policies, such as the learner transport policy.
“Over and above our efforts to ensure that learners are safe, it is also the responsibility of the parents to ensure that bakkies and Kombis are safe. They should ensure that their transport arrangement is safe.”
KZN’s MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Willies Mchunu also expressed his condolences to the families.
“It is extremely unfortunate that we have to learn of yet another loss of young lives in a bakkie accident. This is despite our repeated calls for all stakeholders to take collective responsibility for road safety by ensuring that bakkies are used for what they are made for… and not to ferry people.”
He said that the overloaded bakkie was a recipe for disaster and that the department would send a team to investigate the cause of the accident.