Moloto Road: Ride from hell

2013-11-17 14:00

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The residents of Machiri village lost relatives and friends in Monday night’s crash on the Moloto road – but they were back on the notorious road in bright yellow buses in the days that followed. Sizwe sama Yende and Leon Sadiki went along for the ride.

It’s 3.45am on Thursday morning when City Press joins the back of the queue at Machiri village bus stop near Groblersdal.

The queue is moving slowly, people boarding an idling Putco bus.

Commuters wait to board a Putco bus at Marabastad bus terminal, Pretoria. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

It costs R66 for two passengers. The driver tells us our change will be R1 short.

We don’t argue with her – instead, we make our way inside to the back of the bus.

The seats are all occupied, so we join other passengers who will stand for the duration of the one-hour-45-minute trip from Machiri to Marabastad, Pretoria.

One speed bump and 500 metres later, we reach a T-junction, turn right and hit the R573 – the Moloto Road, which made headlines this week when a Putco bus heading to Machiri and Waterval villages was involved in a crash that left 29 people dead.

But the passengers on this morning’s trip have no choice: they must rely on these buses on this road to reach work in Pretoria’s homes, factories and shops and to return home at the end of each day.

Their emotional wounds are still raw, though this obviously isn’t immediately obvious – in the grey dusk, some passengers are dozing off while others speak quietly among themselves.

With our cameras and notepads, we stick out like sore thumbs.

Emelie Sibanyoni, wearing a yellow doek and a peach-coloured cloak draped around her upper body, is sandwiched between other passengers on the back seat.

We get talking about Monday’s crash.

“Government must take over the like Putco don’t fix their fleet and they plunge into houses and trees because they have faulty brakes. Last year one of their buses could not negotiate a curve because of these faults,” she says.

“We’re scared to get into these buses and have to pray to God to save us since we’ve no alternative transport.

“Some of my neighbours were killed and others were injured from the accident this week.”

Heads begin to turn towards us. Sibanyoni’s comments get other people talking, too.

“Putco buses’ engine parts are bound by wires and pieces of stockings, that is why they always break down,” says one passenger.

“Putco management doesn’t care about us. They don’t have enough buses to serve this area hence we’re always overcrowded.”

“Putco thinks the R7 000 they give to bereaved families can bring back their loved ones.”

“Their drivers don’t listen when we warn them they’re speeding or being reckless...they say they’re in a hurry.”

The driver, meanwhile, is stepping on the gas – the bus races downhill, then struggles up the gentle hills that take us past the sprawling villages in the former KwaNdebele homeland.

It is travelling in a row with five other Putco buses.

A white BMW’s driver decides not to overtake on the right hand side, instead squeezing past all six buses in the yellow line.

Joseph Skhosana has been quiet along the way, but as we approach Pretoria he starts talking.

Skhosana lost his nephew, Paul Mashiane, in the accident.

Mashiane was a passenger that day but he was employed by Putco as a driver.

“I’m hurting, I’ve lost someone. My nephew and the other drivers who died had to be passengers that day because the company doesn’t have enough buses (for them all to drive),” Skhosana says.

Vusi Mnguni, who lost eight friends in the accident, believes Putco needs competition to improve its service.

“They would definitely know how to treat us if they had a competitor.

“Government dispatches traffic cops when there’s an accident?...?they impound buses but after a week they disappear and those buses return to the road,” Mnguni says.

The provincial government’s promise to build a railway line to ferry commuters is, he says, “like expecting torrential rainfall in winter.”

Mnguni believes trucks should be banned from using Moloto road because they are always involved in accidents.

At 5:20 we arrive on Baviaanspoort road in Pretoria and we take a few turns to the bus rank in Marabastad.

Our return journey, at 4pm, is on a bus that’s badly in need of repair. The dashboard is patched with yellow tape and the passenger door is tied together with a plastic bag at the top.

It’s standing room only again. Some passengers sit on the steps near the door.

The driver sticks to between 60 and 80km per hour for the entire way home – passengers say Putco has speed inspectors posted along the route.

Other buses wheeze past us until they are a small speck into the distance.

We arrive in Machiri two hours later.

Joana Mahlangu is recovering at home in Machiri. The mother of three children – a 12-year-old and six-month-old twins – spent two days in hospital and has taken time off from her job as a domestic worker in Grasfontein to recuperate.

She still aches.

“I saw nothing and was woken up by shattering of glass. But along the way the bus was struggling to move and felt like it would stop,” Mahlangu explains.

She used to sleep at her employers’ place but started commuting after giving birth to her twins.

»?After the trip, Putco spokesperson, Romeo More, told City Press that 80% of the fleet was new.

He said the maintenance and retraining of drivers was ongoing.

Moloto road leaves trail of 95 deaths, 206 injuries in a four-year space

Crashes on the infamous Moloto Road have claimed 95 lives and left 206 people injured in the past four years. Many of the accidents, which happened early in the morning or late at night, involved buses and trucks.

Following?this week’s crash the Mpumalanga government promised to prioritise the creation of the Moloto rail corridor development aimed at making the R573 road safer.

It wasn’t the first time this promise was made: in 2008 Cabinet approved the Moloto rail corridor development after a feasibility study completed in 2007.

The road connects Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng.

» September 25 2009 – A bus and a van collided head on, 6 people died and two others were injured

»October 10 2009 – A bus and a taxi collided head-on at Leeukloof. 14 people were killed and 8 injured

»November 26 2009 – A bus collided head-on with a truck, 10 people died and 23 were injured

»December 9 2009 – A bus overturned in the Kameeldrift area killing 5 people and injuring 77

» December 26 2009 – A truck and two cars collided in Vlaklaagte, four people were killed and three injured

»April 2010 –- A head-on collision between a taxi and van between Moloto and KwaMhlanga Roads left 8 people dead and 11 injured

»November 2010 – Six people were killed and two injured when their truck was involved in an accident between Barseda and Maumong

»September 2011 – A bus and a car collided killing four people and injuring 30

»?December 2012 – Six people were injured and two others were injured in a head-on collision

»?April 2013 –Three people died and 17 were injured when three cars and a taxi were involved in an accident. – Zinhle Mapumulo

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