Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said he was “shocked” and felt “betrayed” at the death of 19 schoolchildren who were burnt beyond recognition, while seven were critically injured when the minibus they were travelling in collided with a heavy-duty truck and burst into flames.
There were 27 people in the Iveco minibus, including the driver, who was also killed. The driver of the truck was quickly escorted from the scene on the R25 Groblersdal road in Mpumalanga.
The learners were from Refano Primary School and Mahlenga Secondary School and were on their way home from school.
Panyaza said he didn’t want to point fingers at this stage to say if the minibus was overloaded.
However, that does seem to have been the case, and the MEC’s response would appear to indicate that he has more than a passing suspicion on the matter.
“I’m shocked, disappointed. I feel betrayed by people – we give them a business opportunity to take care of our children and they lead us to this kind of a disaster.
“The last time I saw so many bodies in one place was at the Ellis Park disaster. But this one is more sad. They were literally burnt beyond recognition,” said Panyaza.
Florence Phoso lost two of her children in the accident – Siyabongo (6) and Thembaleni Phoso (12).
She cried uncontrollably, saying: “They were not even sick. Why did they have to die?”
Mariah Mtshweni was devastated as three of her brother’s children, Thapelo (13), Sibusiso (9) and Nokthula (8), also perished in the horrific accident.
“They were good kids who loved playing soccer,” said Mtshweni.
“Another painful process the family has to go through is to identify the bodies,” the MEC said.
“We are excited at least that the people who are assigned to deal with this matter dealt with it professionally – the paramedics, law enforcement agencies. We are not alone and we got the support from public representatives. It is a sad day, it is a sad … sad day. You can’t lose 19 peaceful souls at one time.
“We don’t want to point fingers but if you have a car carrying 27 people, it is a clear indication that something was not right. Twenty people died on the scene, seven people are in hospital seriously injured.
“It is a clear indication that someone took advantage. We just have no choice to immediately start with some investigation,” said Panyaza.
He said he felt pity for the families.
“I hope they can be strong. We give them all the support they need.
“We will work together with the local authority and the Mpumalanga local government,” he added.
Payaza then went on to meet with parents and families at a local school near the accident scene.
He told them the department would make sure that they received the necessary counselling and support through their pain.
Member of the Gauteng Legislature Refilwe Mogale said: I don’t have words, I have never seen such a thing. I pray for the families and the community.”