But 40-year old Bradley Masalla from Wentworth said on Tuesday he could not comment on the circumstances under which the 16-seater vehicle registered in his name was overloaded and carrying 26 churchgoers - among them, senior citizens and children - when it crashed.
Masalla declined to comment on allegations that the vehicle’s brakes might have been worn. He could not say whether or not he had any other vehicles registered in his name that were being used to transport the public.
He said he wanted to give the authorities space to do their work and that he was co-operating with them.
Pressed for a message to the victims and their families, Masalla offered his condolences.
“I’m sorry about what happened,” he said, his voice shaking.
The crash occurred in a rural area, near Cato Ridge, at about 9.30am on Sunday. The driver of the minibus taxi - which was transporting people to church at the time - lost control of the vehicle. It crashed into a bridge and plunged down an embankment.
It rolled several times before coming to a stop on its roof.
Transport spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said on Tuesday that initial investigations suggested the vehicle was “beyond overloaded”.
KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate the spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said the vehicle was roadworthy and that the last roadworthiness test was done on March 6, but Ncalane said it appeared there were issues with the brakes.
“The entire condition of the vehicle is being investigated to check if there were any other defects,” he said.
Ncalane said the department would be pushing for criminal charges to be levelled against both the driver of the vehicle - who is still in hospital - and the owner.
He recalled the 2013 Field’s Hill crash, during which a truck smashed into several vehicles, killing 24 people.
The truck driver, Sanele May, pleaded guilty to the charges against him - including 24 counts of culpable homicide - and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Truck owner Gregory Govender pleaded guilty to contravening the National Road Traffic Act and was sentenced to a fine of R25000 or 30 months in jail.
Ncalane said the department hoped this case would be treated similarly.
Police are investigating.
All the deceased had been identified by on Tuesday afternoon.
KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has been assisting with conducting post-mortems in a bid to ensure the victims’ loved ones could bury them this weekend.
Dhlomo, who holds a diploma in forensic pathology, was working at the Pinetown mortuary on Tuesday.
“I decided to get involved here in order to ensure this part of the tragedy is well-managed and goes off smoothly, so that other arms of government can play their part without any hindrances. We anticipate that there should be no further delays because all the bodies have been identified,” Dhlomo said.