Safe Sani Pass claim under scrutiny

2008-04-30 00:00

A ROADS superintendent’s contention that the Sani Pass road — the scene of a horrific accident that left an Australian tourist a paraplegic — was safe and reasonable were challenged in the Pietermaritzburg High Court yesterday.

The superintendent, Vic Kimmince, was being cross-examined by advocate Jean Marais SC, counsel for Professor Robert Mitchell, driver of the bakkie that crashed on the road in March 2005. Mitchell and the KZN roads department are being sued for more than R33 million by Canberra electrician Murray Eastman — now confined to a wheelchair — and his wife Jane.

Kimmince said the road was re-gravelled in 2000 and since then has been patch gravelled.

At the time of the accident he did not believe the road was in need of urgent re-gravelling, but regional director Wally Bennett had said that money to maintain the section between the Sani Pass Hotel and the Lesotho border should be diverted to the Himeville-Sani Pass Hotel section a few days before the accident.

Rain and snow make gravel roads slippery. Most South African drivers are not used to driving in snow and often go off the road as a blanket of snow makes it difficult to see road verges.

He said that a 44-seater bus with German tourists aboard that slipped off the road in 2004, cut a corner and the camber of the road made it go off the road.

A heavy truck also slid off the road as the driver cut a corner.

Marais read out a string of complaints made by the hotel management, farmers, traders, and community representatives about the state of roads, and the Sani Pass road in particular.

One farmer said that in the 46 years he has used the road, it had never been worse than shortly before the accident.

Marais said locals complained to the Transport and Tourism MECs, probably because representations to lower functionaries did not meet with success.

He said the complaints could not be dismissed as exaggeration.

The case continues today.

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