Bus company to defy ban

2008-12-17 00:00

Long-distance bus company SA Roadlink said yesterday it will continue operating in KwaZulu-Natal, despite the withdrawal of its licence for the province following the south coast accident that claimed the lives of 11 people on Tuesday.

A family of six and five bus passengers — including a six-year-old boy — were killed when an SA Roadlink bus attempted to overtake a truck and instead hit the trailer.

The driver lost control and the bus veered into the south-bound lane of the N2, crushing a Toyota Camry.

The victims in the Camry were yesterday identified as Jeremiah Buthelezi, his wife Thabelekile and Malusi, Njabulo, Thabiso and Siyabonga Buthelezi.

Police named those who died on the bus as Konrad Brookes, Steven Brookes (6), Nonkululo Talatala and L.A. Ndebele. Another deceased woman has not been identified.

The six injured people are Samantha Brookes, Leanne Brookes (4), C. Mzuvekile, Abdool Osman, David Nkala and Penelope Dlothi.

Police Superintendent Zandra Wiid confirmed that the victims with the surname Brookes are members of a family, but was unable to provide further details or say where they were from.

The 11 victims were among 33 people killed in public transport accidents in the past four days.

Fifty-eight people have died on KZN roads since the start of the holiday season on December 1.

At a media briefing in Durban yesterday, Transport MEC Bheki Cele criticised the “troublesome” Roadlink company and said all the permits granted to the company have been withdrawn pending the outcome of an investigation into Tuesday’s accident.

From midnight tomorrow, SA Roadlink may not operate on any route in the province until the finalisation of the investigation into the whether its buses are safe, Cele said.

“Any Roadlink bus that is found on our roads will immediately be impounded and its driver will be arrested come midnight on Friday. We cannot keep quiet and fold our arms when our people are being slaughtered by public transport operators,” he said.

Cele said his department is aware of the implications the decision to shut down operations will have on the company, but needs to meet its obligations of ensuring the safety of people.

The bus company has had several of its buses suspended by traffic authorities for bad braking systems, poor steering and worn tyres.

Cele said that when his department contacted SA Roadlink’s management to discuss the accident, a senior member of management said the reason there have been so many incidents involving SA Roadlink buses is because the bus company has the largest fleet.

“The attitude of the management of SA Roadlink stinks. They can’t see a problem with their buses,” said Cele.

But SA Roadlink risk manager Herman Steyn said the company will defy Cele’s ban.

Steyn said it is “business as usual” and that there has been no direct communication with the company with regard to the licences on the Durban route. “We want to assure the public it’s business as usual. Our legal team is trying to make contact with the MEC’s office on this issue,” he said.

He expressed condolences to the families of those who died in Tuesday’s accident near Hibberdene, and said the company has hired a team of independent forensic experts to investigate.

One of the emergency workers who responded to the accident call, Victor Chetty of the Port Shepstone Protection Services, said the shell of the bus was made out of fibreglass and it did not have roll bars.

“The Road Traffic Management Corporation will send forensic investigators to investigate the crash,” he said.

Cele said he visited the scene and the mortuary, where he met family members who had come to identify the bodies.

“There are no words to describe the pain on their faces. It was heartbreaking speaking to family members who had lost their loved ones. Imagine having your entire family wiped out in such a horrific way,” he said.

National Transport Department spokesman Collen Msibi commented: “The numbers of road crashes involving SA Roadlink buses have increased, resulting in the loss of innocent lives and injury to many people. The department is very concerned about this situation, hence the investigation into this matter,” said Msibi.

Meanwhile, the bus driver, Stefanus Baartman, appeared in court in Umzumbe yesterday and was charged with 11 counts of culpable homicide. He was released on R5 000 bail.

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