Traffic cops' mean words ... as people collapsed

2013-04-30 11:25

Traffic officers at the helm of a Road Traffic Inspectorate fitness test that resulted in the death of eight people in KwaZulu-Natal last year made snide comments while people were collapsing around them.

“We don’t want people like this. We want people who are full and well fed,” they said after one of the female participants collapsed, according to testimony before the Road Traffic Inspectorate Recruitment Commission of Inquiry.

Giving evidence on the first day of the hearings yesterday, Nonhlanhla Innocentia Mlambo (30) said running was temporarily suspended only after officials were informed that hospitals were full and doctors were refusing to take any more people.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize instituted the commission of inquiry to probe whether appropriate planning had been done for the recruitment process.

The hearings are being held at the Royal Show Grounds in Pietermaritzburg.

The inquiry will also consider whether sufficient medical resources had been deployed and whether any government employee contributed to the deaths or injuries.

Advocate Thandi Norman SC chairs the commission.

Mlambo told the commission of her elation when she received an SMS on Christmas Day, inviting her to an interview on December 28.

She had cut her holiday short to attend.

She planned to go as an observer first so that she would be adequately prepared when her turn came the next day.

It was also to support her friend who had also been short-listed.

According to Mlambo, she arrived at Harry Gwala Stadium at 5.40am while the participants had been instructed to be there at 6am.

She estimated that the proceedings officially got under way at only around 9 to 10 o’clock while participants had been instructed to be there at 6am.

“The traffic leading to the stadium ¬– at the gate and inside the stadium itself – it was crowded,” she testified.

“People were sitting on the grandstands and along the steps. And, as a result of the sun rotating, many were exposed to the sun,” she said.

Mlambo said she witnessed a female participant collapse.

She was able to identify that it was serious, since she is qualified as a basic ambulance assistant.

The woman had seizures. But, according to Mlambo, there had been no ambulance or police in and around the stadium.

As a result, the woman had to be assisted by other runners who threw water on her to cool her down.

She said an ambulance arrived later, with other runners who needed medical attention. But despite this, the event was not stopped.

The only time running was temporarily suspended was after officials of the department of transport made an announcement over a microphone that hospitals were full and doctors were not accepting more patients.

But the running did resume later. In his opening address, evidence leader for the commission, Sthembiso Kunene, said that from information provided by the department of transport, approximately 15 000 participants ran on December 27.

Of that number, approximately 150 participants were either injured or suffered heat-related conditions as a result of participating in the fitness test.

Mlambo also testified that she overheard a traffic officer saying that they did not want people like “this” after the woman had collapsed.

The comment upset family members of the deceased recruits, who have been invited to participate in the hearings.

Two of the families were not present. The commission heard that they did not have money to attend.

But it was established that accommodation had been provided to some of the families to stay in hotels in Pietermaritzburg to be close to the venue.

The office of the premier has set aside R10.6 million to enable the commission to do its work.

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