Driver’s heroism praised

2014-05-16 00:00

AS the deaths of five pupils who died in Monday’s sludge dam accident were mourned yesterday, in a new twist, praise for the heroic efforts of the driver in rescuing other children emerged.

This after he appeared in court on Wednesday charged with five counts of culpable homicide.

A memorial service for the pupils was held at Senzokuhle Combined School in Rievlei, where community members said more pupils would have died if were not for the bravery of bakkie driver Phel­elani Mchunu (24).

They said Mchunu was helped by farmer Les Francis, his son Bruce and their tractor driver, Collen Mthembu.

They tied a rope around Mchunu’s waist and helped him rescue the other 24 children who were floundering in the sludge dam after the bakkie careered off the road into the dam after it apparently suffered brake failure.

Mchunu appeared in the Greytown Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday charged with culpable homicide.

Farmer Donna Lay said when she arrived at the scene, the children had already been saved from the dam.

“I later found out that the driver’s bravery saved the children,” she said.

Lay said she had also offered him blankets because he was wet, but she did not realise then that he was the one who had rescued the children.

“Both the departments of Transport and Education should also take blame for what happened, because teachers knew that community members had been requesting transport for their children for years,” Lay added.

She said, “If I was the driver faced with a similar situation I would have also taken that route because I did not know that there was a dam there as it is overgrown with grass.”

Senzokuhle principal Mzolisi Makiwane thanked everyone who participated in rescuing the children.

“We have shown that we are united and I hope that the death of the five pupils will not be in vain but will open our eyes ensuring that we change the plight of rural schools,” said Makiwane.

The departments of Transport and Education in a joint statement announced that they have formed a committee to fast-track the implementation of the transport policy for pupils in the province, led by Education head of department Dr Nkosinathi Sishi and Transport head Sbu Gumbi.

Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and her Transport counterpart, Willies Mchunu, made the announcement of the team at the memorial service.

“We have an existing policy in place to guard against learners transported using improper transport.

“What we are doing now is to escalate the implementation of the policy and to address weaknesses in its implementation,” they said.

They also promised to crack down on those continuing to use bakkies to transport pupils by deploying RTI traffic officers and municipal traffic officers to catch them in tht act and thereby avoid such tragedies.

The memorial service was emotionally charged with some family members and surviving pupils breaking down and wailing during the service. Some fainted and were attended to by paramedics.

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