Mourners pay tribute to bus disaster victims

Time of article published May 8, 2003

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By Baldwin Ndaba, Vuyisile Ngesi and Sapa

Build a monument to the 51 victims who died in the Saulspoort Dam bus disaster in the Free State on May Day.

This was the call by hundreds of people attending a memorial service for the accident victims at the dam, outside Bethlehem in the Free State, on Wednesday.

The victims, mostly members of the South African Municipal Workers Union working at the Sol Plaatje municipality in Kimberley, had been on their way to a May Day rally in QwaQwa when tragedy struck.

Nine men and one woman survived.

Memorial services were held for the dead in two locations on Wednesday - at the scene of the disaster and in Kimberley's Galeshewe Stadium.

At the dam, about 600 people - many from Bethlehem itself - turned up to pay their respects.

Speakers expressed their grief over an incident which had shocked their town, as well as the entire Free State.

As mourners listened to the speeches, others, mostly elders, stood in rows and directed their eyes to the dam, where the flow was not as strong and violent as it had been on May 1.

Feelings ran high when Spirit Mohoje, an unscheduled speaker, took the podium to pray for those who had died.

He had travelled from QwaQwa to Bethlehem to express his sorrow that the victims had not made it as far as his hometown.

In his prayer, he said: "They were travelling all the way from the Cape. It is unfortunate that they saw QwaQwa from under the water. Their bodies motionless.

"They could not talk and had to be returned home as corpses. Oh, God! Do something about it."

In Kimberley, as thousands of relatives and other mourners commemorated the dead in the stadium, Cosatu president Willie Madisha urged the Sol Plaatje municipality to reinstate four of the dead workers, who had been fired ahead of May Day.

The four had been among 13 workers fired following their involvement in a labour dispute with the authorities.

Madisha said Northern Cape Premier Manne Dipico had to intervene to ensure that the four were recognised as legitimate employees at the time of their death. He demanded that a decision be made before their burial on Sunday.

Madisha explained that if 13 people were out of work, about 130 mouths went unfed.

"So let this be corrected quickly, even before we bury the deceased over the weekend."

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, speaking on behalf of the government, said as the country joined Kimberley in mourning, "we should bear in mind that the victims deserve a fitting farewell".

The nation should not simply mourn their deaths but also celebrate the lives they had lived.

Mdladlana said in the space of two weeks a total of 79 workers had been killed in road accidents.

"I still cannot understand how a bus so big can make so many wrong turns and cause the loss of so many lives," said the minister.

South African Local Government Association spokesperson Georgina Lefifi said: "The death of the 51 comrades is not only a loss to all of us, but to the South African economy at large.

"These comrades died in their line of duty on the day that is commemorated by workers worldwide.

"We are humbled by their support, loyalty and commitment towards the development of our country."

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