Fam­ily wiped out 45 years ago


WHEN Daphne Pillay thinks back to May 22, 1974, it is filled with bit­ter-sweet mem­o­ries. It was the day her fa­ther brought home their first car, a grey Peu­geot.

But it was also the day her en­tire fam­ily was killed, af­ter a train col­lided with their car.

There has never been com­plete clo­sure for Pillay. As a sur­vivor of the crash, her fam­ily was buried while she lay in a coma.

Pillay, who turned 50 re­cently, was only five years old at the time and mirac­u­lously sur­vived the crash along with her aunt, Meena Pa­day­achee – now in her 50s and a mis­sion­ary – and cousins Vin­cent Nair, 51, an in­sur­ance bro­ker, and his brother Dick­son, who is also in his 50s.

Her fa­ther, Wayen Nair, 27, mother Sheila, 25, brother Kevin, 4, and six­month-old baby sis­ter, Eve­lyn, were killed. At the time, the tragedy made head­lines in Post Natal.

Since be­ing or­phaned, her life, she said, had not been easy.

She was a re­bel­lious teenager and found it dif­fi­cult to find her place in so­ci­ety. Pillay tied the knot at 22 in the hope of hav­ing a bet­ter life but her part­ner later died.

She was wid­owed at a young age and left to care for her three chil­dren, the youngest 11 months old at the time. But de­spite all the chal­lenges, she has man­aged to per­se­vere and now lives in Richards Bay where she works as a chef.

Shar­ing her jour­ney 45 years later, Pillay said her mem­o­ries of the crash were vague.

“We lived in a two bed­room flat in Buf­fels­dale (oThon­gathi). My fa­ther was a chef and my mother ran a small home in­dus­try busi­ness. My dad came home that day with such a broad smile on his face. Our home was filled with ex­cite­ment and laugh­ter be­cause he had brought home our first car, a grey Peu­geot,” re­called Pillay.

In his hands, she said, were pack­ets of food items and gifts for her and her sib­lings. “Kevin and I got a cow­boy and cow­girl set, while Eve­lyn was gifted a rat­tle. This is one of the last mem­o­ries I have of my fam­ily be­ing to­gether. Soon af­ter my fa­ther ar­rived home, we got into the car and went to visit my ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents, who lived a few min­utes away from us.”

Pillay said they left their home with her aunt and and picked up her cousins, Dick­son and Vin­cent, to take them for a drive.

“I re­mem­ber we ap­proached the rail­way line, be­fore Buf­fels­dale and Flamingo Heights, and were in the mid­dle of the tracks when sud­denly the car switched off. We could not open the doors or win­dows. Ev­ery­thing seemed jammed.”

Sec­onds later, a train crashed into them. “The next thing I re­mem­ber was wak­ing up from a two-month coma in King Ed­ward VIII Hospi­tal, with in­juries to my hip and leg, and be­ing told that my en­tire fam­ily was dead.”

Pillay said they had al­ready been buried and she never got to say good­bye.

When she was dis­charged from hospi­tal, she lived with her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents, Paul and Papa Nair, and her aunt, Lilly Joseph.

“My grand­fa­ther was an evan­ge­list and he taught me about prayer and that helped me cope with the tragedy. He died a few years later. But as I got older, I kept on feel­ing like I did not be­long or fit in any­where be­cause I had no par­ents or sib­lings. I of­ten ques­tioned why this had hap­pened to me.”

She had be­come a rebel, she ad­mit­ted. “My fam­ily could not han­dle my be­hav­iour and when I was 17, a so­cial worker placed me in the School for In­dus­tries in New­cas­tle. It was here that I com­pleted my ma­tric. I agreed to go be­cause I just wanted to be alone.”

Af­ter a year, Pillay re­turned to her grand­par­ents’ home but as things started to set­tle for her, she was dealt an­other blow when her grand­mother died and she was left with no place to go.

“Given my re­bel­lious­ness in the past, my fam­ily was not will­ing to take me in. This is when I met my hus­band. He was a fam­ily friend and asked me to move in at his fam­ily’s home in KwaDukuza.”

Hav­ing no other op­tion, Pillay agreed. A year later they mar­ried and had three chil­dren – Jade, now 27, an elec­tri­cian, Daniel, 21, a boil­er­maker and part-time pho­tog­ra­pher and DJ, and Raphael, 15.

“We had a good life but in 2003, my hus­band died and yet again my life was thrown into tur­moil. Raphael was only 11 months old. I moved out of KwaDukuza and to Sand­fields (oThon­gathi). With the fi­nan­cial help of my hus­band’s fam­ily, I man­aged to rent a small out­build­ing for us.”

Pillay said for two and a half years they paid her rent and bought her food – as well as things she needed for her baby.

“When Raphael turned 3, I left him with a care­giver. I got a job as a cleaner at a re­sort and would do cook­ing for them as well. Life once again started get­ting bet­ter. With my fam­ily, we built a home for our­selves. Jade got mar­ried and had a daugh­ter. I was so proud.”

Pillay said she re­cently took a job as a chef in Richards Bay and re­lo­cated with her sons.

“It is still a painful chap­ter of my life but with prayer I have made peace with all that has hap­pened. I have never vis­ited the crash site but I went to the grave site a few times. It is very emo­tional for us.”


RIGHT: Daphne Pillaywith her hus­band In­dran, daugh­ter Jade and sons Daniel andRaphael.LEFT: The news­pa­per clip­ping that ap­peared in Post Natal in 1974.FAR LEFT: Daphne Pillay, who re­cently turned 50, mirac­u­lously sur­vived an ac­ci­dent 45 years ago, which wiped out her fam­ily, in­clud­ing her par­ents and sib­lings.

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