Test chaos deepens

2013-01-02 00:00

AS news of yet another death during last week’s gruelling fitness test at Harry Gwala stadium was reported yesterday, it emerged that some of the candidates shortlisted by the provincial Transport Department for trainee traffic officer posts applied for jobs more than six years ago.

The death of Xolani Gumede yesterday brings to eight the number of people who died after they were subjected to a fitness test in searing heat in Pietermaritzburg last week.

It also emerged that some of the shortlisted candidates did not have the requisite driver’s licences.

Chaos reigned as more than 35 000 shortlisted candidates were called or SMSed. They were told to report for fitness tests. Unaware that there were just 90 jobs available, they descended on the Harry Gwala stadium on Thursday and Friday.

Among those who received a call was Babra Mzolo, who told The Witness yesterday she had applied for a job in 2006.

“I received an SMS on Christmas Day, but did not take it seriously because I thought it was for someone else.”

However, a few hours later she received a call from a Transport Department official, who told her she had been shortlisted and had to report for a fitness test.

“I was not interested, as I am already working. I told her that I don’t even have a driver’s licence to start with.”

Department of Transport insiders said the process was a mess from the word go and that they were ashamed and embarrassed.

The shortlisting process had already cost the department more than the total pay of the 90 jobs advertised, long before the fitness tests took place.

Staff were brought in from regions throughout KwaZulu-Natal to help whittle 150 000 applications down to 35 000 and the department had to pay for their accommodation.

The staff worked seven days a week to sort the applications, amassing overtime in the process. They even worked on Christmas and the Day of Goodwill to contact the shortlisted candidates.

Department insiders said this was not the first time that there had been several thousand applications for jobs. In the past candidates were chosen on a first-come, first-served basis.

For 90 posts, not more than 500 applications would have been chosen. This number would then have been shortlisted to 200 at the most, from which the 90 applicants could have been chosen.

From what The Witness has been able to piece together since last week, it appears that no one checked the basic requirements before candidates were sent on the gruelling four-kilometre run in sweltering heat.

No water was provided and many candidates could not find seating and shelter from the blazing sun.

Applicants were not initially required to sign an indemnity form, but following the collapse of some of the recruits on Thursday, those who ran on Friday were told to sign.

The applicants apparently had no choice. They had to sign or forfeit the chance of getting a job.

Candidates arrived as early as 6 am on Thursday and Friday as instructed. Officials arrived at about 8.30 am and the tests began an hour later.

Meanwhile, the Msunduzi Municipality has reportedly complained about the the damage caused to the stadium and heads.

Several regulations were flouted. Harry Gwala has capacity for only 10 000 people, yet during the fitness tests 17 500 people filled the stadium.

Moreover, the municipality’s disaster management department must be informed when large events are being held. This was not done, and the relevant officials only found out about the event from media reports.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said that due to the intense media interest in the matter, an agreement had been reached with the Transport Department that it would communicate on the matter, including on the issues concerning the stadium.

Transport Department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said he was unable to comment on the process used to shortlist candidates, or on claims that officials were ferried from other centres in the province and put up in hotels.

These questions would form part of an internal investigation, he said.

A Pietermaritzburg lawyer not involved in the tragedy said the department might be subject to both civil claims and criminal charges.

However, it would be a challenging task to sue it successfully.

The lawyer, who declined to be named for professional reasons, said: “If it could be shown that the department had been negligent in the matter, it could give rise to civil claims and criminal cases.

“On the other hand, it could be said that the people should have known their capabilities and hence they were responsible for their actions. Nobody made them do it, so it could be said they assumed the risks.”

If officials had been warned that the conditions were not conducive for the test to take place and were told not to proceed, that would strengthen the case for possible claims and criminal charges, he said.

“Their failure to provide water or even do the basic test that the people were capable of running before sending them off could constitute negligence, and if you negligently cause someone else’s death, you are charged with culpable homicide,” the lawyer said.

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