Johannesburg - Charlene Visser* was looking forward to a peaceful weekend relaxing at home after a busy week at school.
But when the Grade 10 Hoërskool Driehoek pupil woke up on Friday morning she would never have imagined she would witness one of her close friend’s legs nearly being amputated after a concrete slab from the walkway of the Vanderbijlpark school fell on him.
“I will never forget how he screamed in pain when the bridge fell on his legs,” she said.
“That will haunt me forever.”
The 15-year-old pupil told the Saturday Star that before she could begin classes she and her classmates were confronted with the gruesome tragedy, which claimed the lives of three pupils and injured over 20 more.
Hurt pupils were taken to nearby hospitals with a variety of injuries.
“We were all heading towards our classes and as I got into the quad I heard this loud noise and people screaming.
“When I turned around I saw a slab from one of the bridges falling and that’s when I saw it fall on my friend’s leg.”
Visser explained that during the incident, which happened at around 8am, there were pupils standing on top of the walkway, directly below it and scores more near the structure.
Another pupil, who did not want to be named, was too emotional to speak but shared Visser’s sentiments.
“I have never seen anything like this before and I don’t think it is something I will ever get over,” he said.
“When it happened I ran to try and help some of my friends. I just pray that they are okay.”
Although some pupils, teachers, parents, community members, police officers, forensic pathologists and Department of Education officials were still at the premises later, an eerie silence permeated the building.
“How will these kids ever get over something like this?” someone was heard asking another.
The Vanderbijlpark community used the tragedy as an opportunity to provide whatever support they could.
Visser told of how they had come to pray just moments after the collapse.
This was repeated in a sombre vigil last night, when throngs of Vanderbijlpark residents held hands in front of the school, some weeping uncontrollably, while others prayed as the rain pelted down.
Some stood in circles at the entrance of the school as they comforted one another. A father who lost a daughter moved quietly through the crowd carrying a bouquet of red flowers.
He knelt and placed the flowers among heaps of bouquets, standing for a few minutes in silence before he joined the community in prayer.
Some pupils and neighbouring schools were inconsolable, weeping and constantly hugging each other.
Pastor Louis le Roux from the Calvary Ministry in the Vaal hugged pupils and parents.
Le Roux said the church would provide spiritual support.
“It is painful. We will pray and be with our children during this time.”
Police and paramedics were overcome with emotion as well, joining the community in prayer.
The school has been closed until further notice with Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who visited the scene, insisting that the priority was to provide trauma counselling for pupils.
“Counselling is being provided to learners and parents and officials on the school grounds,” he said on Friday.
“It breaks my heart to see those bodies still lying there. Those innocent souls. We urge that investigations be concluded so bodies can be released.”
Lesufi added that the school, which is 45 years old and has a capacity of 1060, was now a crime scene.
“Unfortunately in these kinds of incidents law enforcement must perform their functions. We send our condolences to the affected families and wish those injured a speedy recovery.”
* Not her real name