Traffic test tragedy

2012-12-31 00:00

LENNY Nxumalo (28) jumped for joy when he received a call from the Department of Transport telling him to come for a fitness test at Harry Gwala Stadium.

He knew that passing the test would give him a shot at a new job as a traffic officer and a better life.

On Thursday, he was among the 17 500 candidates who turned up at the stadium vying for only 90 advertised positions.

He ran the mandatory four kilometres in the sweltering 33,7° C heat in 20 minutes, beating the cut-off time by 10 minutes — then he died from dehydration.

Nobody noticed that the man from Happy Valley in Woodlands was dead until four hours later when the crowd had cleared and people were making their way home.

Nxumalo was one of seven people who died as a result of the department’s fitness test. Two died at Northdale Hospital, three at Grey’s Hospital and one in Edendale Hospital on Thursday. Another reportedly took his own life.

The 28-year-old father of two had been the breadwinner in a family of seven, said his best friend, Brian Ngcobo.

He said Nxumalo had been employed as a machine operator at Ramsay Engineering, and was excited when he received a call on Christmas Day from the Department of Transport telling him that he had made it on to the shortlist of 35 000 candidates to undergo a fitness test.

The department reportedly received about 150 000 applications from job seekers. It short-listed 35 000 and split them into two groups.

Ngcobo said this was Nxumalo’s shot at getting a better job and improving his family standard of living.

“My friend was so determined to become a traffic officer that he ran his life out because he was such a dedicated person,” he said.

Nxumalo’s fiancée and Ngcobo were with a group of friends who were cheering for Nxumalo when he ran, but they could not get into the stadium because only the candidates who had made the 30-minute cut-off time were allowed in.

At 5.30 pm they phoned Nxumalo, but he did not answer.

“We left the Harry Gwala Stadium thinking that he would tell us when he was done because we were there to support him.

“When we phoned later his phone was answered by a person who identified herself as a paramedic and she did not tell us what had happened, she just told us that he had qualified for the next round,” he said.

Ngcobo said they drove back to the stadium. “We found people had left, but there was one ambulance and hid body was in it, and this was after 9.30 pm. When we asked what happened we were told by the ambulance driver that Lenny had been lying there for four hours without receiving help and when they tried to help, it was too late.”

His father, Joseph Nxumalo said: “He persevered all his life and I am sure that he was going to become a traffic officer because when he set himself a target he never failed.”

Nxumalo said his son loved his children, Stanton (10) and Nolwazi (20 months), and his fiancée, Bonisile Ngcobo. He said he felt bad that he did not have money to give him a proper burial.

Meanwhile, the KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Willies Mchunu released a statement saying he would launch an investigation.

More than 15 000 applicants attended the fitness test on Friday, but no deaths were reported as the day was slightly cooler, at 30,8°C.

More than 230 applicants were taken to hospital after collapsing during the fitness test. Many were treated and discharged and 11 were still hospitalised yesterday.

According to the doctors’ report, many suffered from dehydration and heat exhaustion.

“I am deeply shocked after learning what happened at Harry Gwala Stadium,” said Mchunu. “As government we regret any injuries or loss of lives as a result of the fitness test we conducted over the past two days.”

Yesterday, Mchunu suspended driving tests scheduled for those who had passed the fitness test.

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