The lucky few who lived to tell their tales of horror

2014-12-14 15:00

The survivor

Franklin Weiers was 12 years old when a horrific accident after a family outing left him burning under a converted Quantum taxi.

Now 16, the Grade 8 pupil still suffers nightmares and behavioural problems. He spent a month in hospital undergoing skin grafts for the burns on his arms, chest, legs and neck.

In 2011, 15 Weiers family members and their friends from Oudtshoorn hired a taxi for a family outing. Unknown to them, it was a converted taxi. On their way back, the driver swerved to avoid a dog on the road and lost control of the unstable vehicle. The taxi rolled, landed in a ditch and caught fire.

Passenger Gerald Claasen remembers trying to get out of the taxi, and seeing taxi seats and his unconscious family and friends “all over the place”.

He flagged down passing motorists for help, and a doctor and his wife – a nurse – pulled a burning Franklin out from under the taxi.

The child was not only burnt, but suffered head injuries and a broken hip.

He was luckier than Koekie Swartbooi (21), who died. Everybody else in the vehicle was injured.

Franklin’s mother, Felicity Baartman, said: “He still has nightmares and they put him on medication, but he still lashes out and breaks things.”

For her, there is only one solution to the problem of converted taxis.

“They must be taken off the roads. They are not safe,” she said. – Athandiwe Saba and Nicki Güles

The taxi owner

Last year, Benneth Hlungwane sold his bakkie and bought what he thought was a new Toyota Quantum taxi. He paid a R40?000 deposit and was told his monthly instalment would be R10?000 over five years.

“I was told that R4?000 would go to the dealership for a permit and R36?000 would go to SA Taxi Finance,” he said.

But when he went to the Langlaagte testing station in Johannesburg, he had to pay more because his taxi had no safety inspection report. That’s when he discovered his vehicle was a converted panel van.

He had heard a lot about them.

“Traffic cops want bribes all the time because everyone knows these things should not be carrying passengers.

“I went back to the dealer and they said there was nothing wrong with the car, it had undergone the [transport] department’s safety tests.”

The taxi had more problems – the seats were too high and blocked the view from the rear-view mirror, the petrol pump malfunctioned because of the weight of passengers above it, and the side shaft studs started falling off.

Three months later, it was involved in its second accident, in which a nine-month-old baby died.

Hlungwane said he wasn’t driving more than 70km/h when his taxi started swerving on the road. He tried to control it, but it ended up rolling.

“I’m stuck now. I have nothing and yet this woman from SA Taxi Finance keeps calling me for the repayment.

“I told them and the dealer about this car, and no one did anything. I wouldn’t have bought it if I had known,” he said.

SA Taxi Finance would not comment when contacted by City Press. – Athandiwe Saba

Son loses father

In 2009, taxi owner Mandlenkosi Sangweni was driving to Durban for his daughter’s wedding with the bride- to-be and other relatives.

He got a puncture near Grootvlei, lost control and rolled the vehicle. He and two others were killed instantly and nine were severely injured. His daughter spent three months in hospital with head injuries.

Sangweni’s son, Thami, said it was still very difficult for him to talk about losing his father.

“We will never really get over it,” he said.

“As far as I know, the road was straight, but because of the condition of the vehicle, there was no way they could have made it.

“When I arrived on the scene, the taxi’s windows had all burst out. My dad’s skull had caved in,” he said. – Athandiwe Saba

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