On Saturday thousands of mourners including pupils from Refano Primary Sschool and various neighbouring schools gathered to bid farewell to the pupils and a general worker at the school who died in the crash.
The 17 coffins were lined up in a tent, each with a picture of the deceased – a constant reminder of the fatal crash in which some of the victims burnt to death after the taxi burst into flames and claimed the lives of 18 pupils, a general worker and the driver.
Of the 18, 14 were from the Refano Primary school and four from the Mahlenga Secondary school.
Seven pupils survived. Four have since been discharged from hospital and three are still in hospital.
The bodies of 19 of the dead were burnt beyond recognition except for that of driver, Amos Mnguni, who was buried last Saturday.
Donations made to families to conduct a proper funeral service included the SA National Taxi Council making 120 taxis available for the use of family and mourners. Putco also contributed 10 buses, and the Road Accident Fund paid for the coffins.
Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi made a contribution of 10 cows for all mourners to collectively share a meal in memory of the departed.
During the funeral service, bereaved family members, with sad faces, sat close to the coffins of their loved ones.
Some of the bereft school pupils, relatives and other mourners had to be escorted out of the tent as they could not hold back their tears during the painful funeral programme.
Some fainted, wept uncontrollably, prompting Lesufi to call in social workers and psychologists to provide counselling for them.
“It was the first time seeing the community of Verena working together. It is really appreciated especially what the community and the government did for us,” said Phaswana Madihlaba, who lost three of his relatives in the crash.
He urged the government and municipal officials to urgently remove the ashes from the accident scene.
“As Africans, we have beliefs, and right now we don’t think that those ashes should be there. We know what happened there and it’s not nice to see those ashes every day there”.
All speakers, including Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, who comforted the bereaved families, assured that the provincial government shared their grief and agony, saying that like every situation passes, this too would pass and heal with time.
The same sentiments were echoed by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete. Addressing mourners, she said: “We are here to mourn with you, your tears are our tears, we are all here for you.
“For we too have lost our own people.”
Mbete said she was saddened that the pupils died at this most difficult time when the country was experiencing political turbulence and opposition parties and some in the ANC alliance were calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down.
Gospel singers Rebecca Malope, Sipho Makhabane and pupils from Refano Primary and Mahlenga Secondary school pupils sang to comfort mourners.
The Mahlenga pupils recited poems in tribute of their schoolmates.
Sixteen pupils and the general worker were buried in different cemeteries at Verena, Kwaggafontein and Wolvenkop.
The remaining two pupils would be buried today at their homes in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
Mpumalanga MEC for Community Safety, Security and Liaison Pat Ngomane would lead the funeral delegation in KZN while Lesufi would be in Limpopo.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister of Transport Joe Maswanganyi also attended Saturday's funeral.