Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Rustenburg - Seven school pupils died when a truck they were travelling in veered off the road and hit a tree outside Zeerust in North West at the weekend.

The provincial education department said the accident occurred on Saturday at the intersection between Lobatla and Driefontein outside Zeerust when the pupils were returning from playing soccer in Borakalalo. They were on their way to Rietpan.

"The learners were involved in the accident and attended school at Ratsela Middle school and Letlhakane Primary school in Rietpan Village near Zeerust.

"Six learners died at the scene and one died at the hospital. An unconfirmed number are still recovering at the hospital," said department spokesman Elias Malindi.

Education MEC Mmaphefo Matsemela said she was shocked to hear about the accident. "On behalf of the department, we are very much shocked and devastated by the accident that has claimed seven lives of our children. This accident happened at a very crucial time wherein learners were preparing to write their final examinations. I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the families who have lost children from the horrible accident," she said.

The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the North West also expressed shock at accident.

Provincial chairperson Paul Sebegoe appealed to motorists to drive with caution and exercise vigilance on roads. "We are saddened by the tragic accident and wish to convey our deepest condolences to the families that lost their loved ones as well as wish those injured a speedy recovery," he said.

He also called on authorities to probe whether the vehicle involved was roadworthy and whether the driver was licensed and sober at the time of the accident, and also whether the trip was authorised by their respective schools with the required supervision by teachers and whether there had been parental consent.

"We cannot afford to lose precious lives because of human error or any other factor that could have been anticipated and avoided because one death on our public roads is a death too many."

He pleaded for efforts to create reliable and safer public transport, particularly in rural communities, stating that a truck was not the safest mode of transport to ferry learners.

African News Agency/ANA