Taxi victims’ families unhappy with driver’s light sentence

2013-07-26 00:00

RELATIVES and friends of the 15 victims and four survivors of the horror September 2011 Copesville taxi collision expressed bitter disappointment at the 10-year jail sentence handed to taxi driver Khululeka Gwala (24) yesterday.

Eunice Lushozi, whose daughter Patience died, and Busisiwe Sidu were among those who said they believed a life sentence was justified.

“We lost everything,” said an emotional Sidu outside court.

They were surrounded by supporters who nodded in agreement.

Mawenu Shangase, who lost his wife Kisimuzi, said he could not sleep since she died. “I am not pleased. I think the sentence should have been at least 15 years,” he said.

Acting Pietermaritzburg high court Judge Piet Bezuidenhout found earlier this week that Gwala could not be found guilty of murder and attempted murder, but said his “grossly negligent and reckless” conduct showed he was guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide.

This was because it could not be shown that he was indifferent to his own death, and because he had tried to avoid a collision between his taxi and an oncoming truck.

He said when sentencing Gwala yesterday that his actions that day — in crossing a double-barrier line onto the wrong side of the road, and driving at high speed while overtaking bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up at a robot — was an “extreme deviation” from the norm.

At the time, Gwala could not see around a bend in the road and was unaware of what vehicles were approaching.

“He took a conscious decision … He was executing a manoeuvre involving a very high risk,” he said.

Bezuidenhout said a police officer had described the accident scene as the most gruesome he had seen in 20 years.

The judge said driving a vehicle on a public road carried responsibilities. A driver had to control his vehicle, obey the law and have consideration for other road users. Without this, a vehicle could become “a dangerous instrument”.

He said the responsibilities of taxi drivers were greater as they must ensure the safety of their passengers. A message should be sent to taxi drivers that disobeying the law and endangering their passengers would not be taken lightly, he said.

Statements submitted by state advocate Candy Kander revealed that some families had lost more than one relative in the accident. Some people lost partners, and children lost parents.

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