Screams, then just silence

By admin
12 December 2013

Jogger Khanyisa Stengile is the sole survivor of a horrific accident that killed her five running mates

It happened suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue. She heard something that sounded like squealing brakes, then instinctively dived out of the way. Moments later a large, gold vehicle swept past her.

Picture Credit - John Liebenberg Picture Credit - John Liebenberg

Initially Khanyisa Stengile, a Randburg business analyst and keen runner, thought the shock of a vehicle brushing so closely by her had caused her to fall. Gingerly she felt her arms to see if anything was broken, first her left arm, then her right. Everything seemed fine. Then she checked her upper body for injuries or blood. Nothing. But when she looked down at her left leg a searing pain shot through her body. Her leg was swollen and a piece of white bone was protruding just above her ankle. Her foot was twisted inwards at an unnatural angle and the first thought that flashed through her mind was that it had been ripped from her body. She lifted her leg but her foot lay there lifelessly. “That’s when I started to scream and cry. I realised I’d been hit by the car,” Khanyisa says from her hospital bed, her voice barely audible.

'I think such terrible things about him. I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it.'

It’s a few days after the accident that shocked the country when an allegedly drunk driver mowed down six runners on a road in Midrand, Gauteng. The women were out early, training for the Comrades Marathon. Khanyisa is the sole survivor.

It was just before 6 am and she was running at the back of the group when the Mercedes-Benz ML 500 flashed past. At first she thought she was the only one to have been hit and that the others hadn’t noticed she’d been injured.

“I was panic-stricken and terrified they wouldn’t turn back,” she says, looking at us with big, sad eyes. Then she noticed her friends’ caps, car keys and shoes strewn

across the road and realised they too had to be lying somewhere. One by one she called out their names but no one answered.

“Where are you?” she shouted. Still there was no reply. Painfully she tried to sit up. But all she could see was the confused driver of the Mercedes standing next to his car. He didn’t even look in her direction.

When a man and woman eventually stopped and knelt beside her she kept asking: “Where are my friends? Can you see them?” Only after repeating the question for the umpteenth time did the man eventually respond. “Yes,” was all he would say. “Are they okay?” she asked again. But he merely gazed at her.

Then she looked to her right for the first time, to the veld next to the road. She saw a body lying some distance away and immediately realised it was her friend Given Mills.

“She was just a little heap in an orange shirt. I knew it was her because she wore an orange shirt that morning,” Khanyisa says, a tear running down her cheek. That’s when she started to pray. “Please God, don’t let me be the only survivor.” But it was already too late. The paramedics told her they would treat the most seriously injured first but when they returned moments later Khanyisa realised she had to expect the worst.

Eventually her boyfriend arrived and knelt beside her. “Tell me the truth,” she insisted. “Are they dead?” But before he could reply, she already knew the answer.

Khanyisa started running just over a year ago after getting onto the scales at a friend’s house and deciding she had to do something about her weight. “On day one I bought myself a R20 stopwatch at a Chinese shop. It could keep time only for 30 minutes,” she says with a wry laugh. “But I didn’t need more because I couldn’t even run for that length of time.”

Then the running bug bit. She first tried only 10 km events, then later a few half marathons, and when entries for next year’s Comrades opened she was one of the first to enter. “That’s how the madness started,” she says with a wink.

She and Given (30), Moroeshi Mokoatsi (34), Reneilwe Lesenyeho (31), Nomvula Dumako (35) and Gaolojwe Isaac Tlale (37) were out training for the event when tragedy struck. “I was feeling lazy that morning and when my alarm went off I initially thought I’d train with another club the following morning,” Khanyisa says. But before she could go back to sleep Given sent her an SMS: “Wakey, wakey!” it said.

So she got up, dressed and drove to Midrand. As usual the first few kilometres were easy and the group of friends chatted away as they kept up a steady pace, running in single file. Gaolojwe set the pace as always. Khanyisa started running in the middle but moved to the back of the group when the others started chatting to one another in seSotho; her mother tongue is isiXhosa. Little did she realise doing this would save her life.

About 3 km  from where they’d set off a blue Polo Playa came speeding around a bend, sending the runners scattering. Afterwards they complained about how little respect South African drivers have for runners. They then stopped at a garage to drink water. “Every day I think if only we’d stopped there a little longer . . . But we were in a hurry to carry on,” Khanyisa whispers.

Not long afterwards, as she was planning the rest of her weekend while running, the Mercedes ploughed into them. There was a slight bend in the road. It seems the driver lost control of his vehicle and instead of taking the bend carried on straight.

Khanyisa tries not to let her thoughts dwell on the driver, Sibusiso Langa. “But when I woke up this morning he was the first person I thought of.” Langa has already appeared in court on five murder charges, one of attempted murder and one of driving under the influence.

“I hear his bail application will be heard today,” she says. Then she holds her head in her hands and shakes it as if trying to rid herself of unpleasant thoughts. “I think such terrible things about him. I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it.” She heard people talking at the scene of the accident. “That man is as drunk as a skunk. He doesn’t even know where he is,” some said. Thinking about it only makes her angrier.

The first two days after the accident she thought she never wanted to run again. But now she can’t wait to get back on the road. Her left shinbone was broken in the accident but has been joined with a plate and screws. “The doctor says I’ll be on crutches for six weeks. Then I’ll start with intensive physiotherapy. It will take time but eventually I’ll be able to run again,” she says, sounding positive.

She wanted to run the Comrades next year to celebrate her 30th birthday. Lying on the roadside, she remembers thinking, “Oh no, goodbye, Comrades. But there’s always Comrades 2013,” she says resolutely. And as the sole survivor of the tragic accident nothing will stop her from giving her all now she’s been given a second chance.

-Alet van Zyl, 10 November 2011

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