Drowned in muddy dark

2014-05-13 00:00

EMOTIONAL scenes played out yesterday at the Rietvlei dam where five school children were killed when the bakkie they were in went out of control and landed in a sludge dam.

Parents and farm workers, mostly women, wailed at the loss of their children.

Initially police located the bodies of four of the dead children: Phumlani Shelembe (Grade 8), Nokwazi Phungula (Grade 6), Lindokuhle Mayekiso (Grade 1) and Amanda Khanyile (Grade 1).

They had been travelling in a bakkie together with 26 of their school mates en route to Tauricus Primary and Senzokuhle High School near Mooi River.

The 25 pupils who were able to free themselves from the wreckage of the submerged bakkie were rushed to Greytown Provincial Hospital.

Altogether five pupils drowned and were certified dead on the scene after 10-year-old Sindiswa Khanyile’s body was found later in the afternoon. She was a Grade 4 pupil at Tauricus Primary.

The rescue efforts were led by the Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone Search and Rescue teams and the Rietvlei SAPS. Police divers were faced with the grim task of trying to locate the children’s bodies which had been immersed in the thick slurry.

Farm workers and farmers had assisted the surviving children before the arrival of the emergency personnel. As police divers worked to recover the bodies, farm workers who had gathered at the dam, sang hymns and prayed together.

Distraught parents of the dead children were in tears asking to see their bodies, some in total disbelief that their children could be dead.

Happiness Shezi, the mother of Lindokuhle Mayekiso (seven) sobbed as she spoke of losing her only son. “He was full of life and even though Lindokuhle was the youngest of my children, he always told his sisters that he was the oldest because he was a boy,” she said.

Shezi said she did not believe what had happened because she had almost lost all her children. “All my children were inside that bakkie travelling to school this morning,” she said.

She said she does not know what she would have done if she had lost them all.

“My son loved playing with his sisters and I am going to miss him,” said Shezi.

Sthembiso Phungula, father of Nokwazi (12) said his wife called him to tell him about the tragedy.

“At the time I did not think that my daughter would be amongst the dead and I was shocked when I found that she had died,” he said.

Phungula said his daughter was very bright and wanted to be a nurse when she grew up. “I am still shocked and I don’t know what to do,” said Phungula, who was trying to remain strong.

Glenrock Farm owner Riaan van Zuydam said, “We are very devastated that three of our staff members have lost their children in such a terrible manner.”

He said he knew the children and “they were very fun loving children and to lose them in this way is very tragic”.

Police arrested the driver at the scene for culpable homicide and negligent driving after he was found to have been carrying 30 children who were crammed inside his overloaded bakkie.

A member of the community generously paid for a bus to transport 23 children who had been sent to Greytown Hospital for treatment after it transpired that they had been discharged but no one had nmade arrangements for them to be sent home.

Two children were admitted with injuries.

• thobani.ngqulunga@witness.co.za

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