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
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.
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)