No water. No medics

2013-04-30 00:00

NO FOOD. No water. No paramedics. No police.

That’s what confronted thousands of job hopefuls when they arrived at Harry Gwala Stadium in December, hoping to grab one of a handful of traffic trainee posts on offer.

A commission of inquiry into the doomed Road Traffic Inspectorate recruitment drive began yesterday, with the first witness testifying about the poor organisation that led to eight deaths and hundreds of applicants falling ill, most from dehydration.

Nonhlanhla Innocentia Mlambo (31) told how participants were performing first aid on those who had collapsed.

“There were no paramedics and police on scene to help the participants who were collapsing,” she said.

The commission is being held at the Royal Showgrounds.

Mlambo, from Maqongqo, outside Pietermaritzburg, had a first-hand account of the chaos.

She said the first person to collapse, a woman, was helped by other participants who poured water on her. An ambulance only came later.

She said she heard traffic officers saying “we had said earlier on that we wanted people who were well-fed for these fitness tests”.

The Witness reported at the time many had run on empty stomachs.

Mlambo said she arrived at the stadium at 5.40 am on December 27, but proceedings only began between 9 am and 10 am after a long wait in the heat. “Inside, the stadium was so packed that one could not move about easily.”

She said officials only briefly stopped the proceedings after receiving calls from hospitals that were full of candidates needing treatment.

The commission continues today, when Mlambo will finish testifying before being cross-examined.

Outlining the incident, evidence leader Sithembiso Kunene said the department advertised a number of posts. About 150 000 applied and 40 700 were short-listed.

He said evidence will show that participants were contacted at short notice by text message or phone on December 24 and 25.

On December 27, 15 000 participated in the first leg, running four kilometres. Some 150 people were injured or took ill. They were treated on the scene and those that were in serious condition went to hospital.

“On December 28, about 102 people were also injured and suffered as a result of hot temperatures,” he said. Kunene said they would lead evidence to show that the weather was extremely hot on those two days.

He said the evidence of pathologists who did the post-mortems will show that participants died because of their involvement in the event.

He said they would show that the police and Msunduzi Municipality’s disaster management were not part of the event. “We will also lead evidence to show that the department met the Msunduzi disaster management, but they did not implement the suggestions of that meeting on December 28,” he said.

Advocate Ravi Padayachee, representing the Department of Transport, pointed out that participants were running a 3,8km fitness test and not four kilometres.

He said they would call experts from the South African Weather Services Bureau to give evidence that the temperatures on the two days were 30 and 27 degrees Celsius respectively.

He said they would also call experts from KZN Athletics to give evidence that running in such conditions could not have been the cause of the deaths.

Padayachee said they would prove that there were 80 employees of the department who were on scene. “We will prove that there was no gross negligence on the department’s side because all the necessary measures had been taken,” said Padayachee.

The commission was appointed by Premier Zweli Mkhize.

It is led by advocate Thandi Victoria Norman.

The eight who died were Lindokuhle Kunene, Bongiwe Gladys Mbatha, Xolani Emanuel Gumede, Sanele Ngcobo, Ntuthuko Sibisi, Lungile Mwambi and Lenny Alson Nxumalo.

Wonder Philani Nkosi drowned at the Alexandra swimming pool after participating.


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