FAM­I­LIES BRO­KEN BY TAXI HOR­ROR

The deaths of 19 Mpumalanga pupils who were on their way home from school on Fri­day have left their fam­i­lies dev­as­tated, with bod­ies still re­quir­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion

CityPress - - Front Page - NTOMBIZODWA MAKHOBA, ZINHLE MAPUMULO and MSINDISI FENGU news@city­press.co.za

Florence and Ernest Maz­iba lost both their sons in Fri­day af­ter­noon’s hor­ror taxi smash that claimed the lives of 19 school­child­ren. Them­be­lani (12) was in Grade 6 at Re­fano Pri­mary Farm School and Siyabonga (8) was in Grade 1. Sit­ting on a mat­tress in her home in Ver­ena in Mpumalanga, Florence sobs un­con­trol­lably.

“Yes­ter­day morn­ing both of them told me they didn’t want to go to school. They were not sick, they had no rea­son, they told me they didn’t want to leave me be­hind,” she said as Ernest shakes next to her, un­able to make eye con­tact.

The mother of five said she forced them to go to school and promised that when they re­turned, she would have pre­pared a spe­cial seven colours meal for them.

“When I said that to them, they fi­nally agreed to go. But when I walked with them to the trans­port, Siyabonga kept look­ing back; he did not want to leave.”

His last words to her were: “Mommy, don’t for­get to feed our doves. Look af­ter them.” Her chil­dren loved their doves. Later that day, while busy with her house chores, Florence’s neigh­bour Pretty Mn­guni knocked at her door and told her she had just re­ceived a call in­form­ing her that a kombi trans­port­ing school­child­ren had caught fire.

“When we ar­rived I didn’t see any­thing but fire. I closed my eyes, pray­ing to God and hop­ing it was not the same kombi my sons used.”

She found out her sons were dead when the names of the seven crash sur­vivors were read out to par­ents at Siza­kele Pri­mary School in Ver­ena.

“I am heart­bro­ken. But I can­not blame my­self for forc­ing them to go to school that day.”

Mahlenga Sec­ondary School Grade 8 pupil Melusi Nx­u­malo (14) also died in the taxi. He kissed his eight-month old sis­ter good­bye on Fri­day morn­ing. His mother, Zinhle, was sur­prised be­cause he had never done this be­fore, and now be­lieves it was his way of saying good­bye.

Selina Nx­u­malo, Melusi’s aunt and the fam­ily’s spokesper­son, said: “Melusi was her pride and joy. He was a bril­liant child with a bright fu­ture. She be­lieved he would one day get her out of poverty.

“When his mother asked why he was so lov­ing that morn­ing, he said: ‘I am her el­der brother; who else can love her like I do?’”

On Fri­day night, a dev­as­tated Themba Maseko, the un­cle of an­other vic­tim, Mnelisi Kham­bule (15), said at the school where the rel­a­tives had gath­ered: “He was se­ri­ous about ed­u­ca­tion and would have changed the sit­u­a­tion in the fam­ily.”

The pupils’ par­ents had hired the taxi to trans­port them. It col­lided with a horse-and-trailer truck on the R25 be­tween Bronkhorstspruit and Grob­lers­dal.

Maseko’s niece, Ce­bile (13), who is in Grade 8, was not se­ri­ously in­jured in the smash. She was taken to KwaMh­langa hos­pi­tal and dis­charged on Fri­day night.

“She keeps ask­ing about her brother. She was sit­ting next to him in the taxi. We don’t un­der­stand how she made it if he died,” Maseko said.

Three chil­dren re­main in hos­pi­tal in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. The Mpumalanga au­thor­i­ties have yet to re­lease the names and ages of the de­ceased chil­dren be­cause they are still ver­i­fy­ing the in­for­ma­tion.

On Fri­day night, Maseko said: “It is heart­break­ing. My nephew was se­ri­ous about ed­u­ca­tion. He was clever. We hoped that he was go­ing to change things for the bet­ter for us.”

On Satur­day, he was among the rel­a­tives ex­pected to iden­tify the bod­ies of their dead chil­dren at KwaMh­langa hos­pi­tal.

Dudu Mvakali, a mem­ber of the school gov­ern­ing body at Re­fano Pri­mary, said she was dev­as­tated by the crash. “We have lost our pupils and are all hurt.”

When City Press ar­rived at the school on Fri­day night, au­thor­i­ties were es­tab­lish­ing teams of of­fi­cials from Gaut­eng and Mpumalanga to help the fam­i­lies.

Mvakali said the pupils were at Gaut­eng schools as isiZulu was not of­fered at schools in Mpumalanga. “We hire taxis to trans­port our chil­dren,” she said. Eye­wit­nesses said some of the de­ceased pupils were burnt be­yond recog­ni­tion.

Gaut­eng Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Le­sufi was on the crash scene shortly af­ter the in­ci­dent.

“I have never seen so many mo­tion­less bod­ies of chil­dren in my en­tire life. I was se­verely dev­as­tated and emo­tion­ally drained,” he told City Press.

He said to help iden­tify the bod­ies, he had alerted his de­part­ment’s foren­sic unit and that of Gaut­eng’s health de­part­ment to as­sist in test­ing the DNA of the dead chil­dren to iden­tify them. Health MEC Gwen Ramok­gopa had agreed to help, he said.

Le­sufi said a com­mit­tee would be es­tab­lished to­day to fi­nalise fu­neral details for the chil­dren.

He said he had been told that the chil­dren were study­ing in Gaut­eng as they were un­able to learn isiZulu in nearby schools, which of­fered isiNde­bele.

Joseph Mabuza, spokesper­son for the Mpumalanga de­part­ment of com­mu­nity safety, se­cu­rity and li­ai­son, said po­lice took the truck driver to a po­lice station af­ter the crash for his own safety.

“He was sent to the hos­pi­tal for a check-up, and later dis­charged,” he said.

Mabuza said a case of cul­pa­ble homi­cide was opened and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der way to es­tab­lish the cause of the ac­ci­dent.

PHOTO: SIMVUYELE MAGEZA

The af­ter­math of the blaz­ing wreck of a taxi, which col­lided with a truck while trans­port­ing pupils home

Ernest and Florence Maz­iba, who lost both their sons in the crash, in­clud­ing eight-year-old Siyabonga (right)

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