‘We are the culprits’

2014-08-15 00:00

TRANSPORT MEC Willies Mchunu offered “heartfelt” apologies to the new RTI recruits put through an inhumane 2012 fitness test that resulted in the deaths of eight of them.

Seated at the traffic college hall in crisp new uniforms, the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) recruits were a far cry from the exhausted figures of December 2012, some of whom collapsed and were rushed to hospital.

They seemed to accept Mchunu’s apology and gave him a standing ovation.

Earlier, they participated in a parade.

Others later said that although they were happy to be chosen, they were still disappointed with how the Transport Department (DoT) conducted the fitness test.

The 91 recruits were selected from the more than 40 000 who took part in the fatal fitness test two years ago.

They started at the college this month and are joined by three municipal traffic officers. They will train there for the next 12 months.

Welcoming them, the MEC said he was sorry for what happened. “We are very sorry for what you were subjected to. I cannot apologise more than the apology. It is a sincere apology on behalf of government.”

He said it was sad that such a well-intentioned programme had turned tragic. “We hope that in your chosen career [as traffic officers] you will never be subjected to what the Department of Transport has subjected you to.

“It was terrible … It was something that no human being should ever have to experience again,” he continued.

Mchunu was unforgiving of the DoT officials. “As the department we are the culprits. We accept any findings the commission makes.”

He said the fitness test was deemed necessary, but officials failed the process and made many errors, including giving manufactured minutes of a meeting to the commission.

Mchunu said four officials were on the verge of being charged. “The HOD will speak to those who need to be spoken to and we are looking at bringing outside people to deal with the matter … preferring charges.”

Answering media questions, the MEC said he could not speak on why his officials continued with the fitness exercise the following day despite the death and hospitalisations, but conceded the commission had raised such concerns.

TWO recruits chosen by the DoT to speak to media did not mince their words about what they thought of the events at the fitness test on December 26 and 27, 2012.

“It was disappointing,” said Sibusiso Khambule from Inanda in Durban.

“I thought the process organised by the DoT would have been more professional.”

Khambule is a former rifleman with the South African Defence Force. He looked a true service man from the way he talks to the way he stands with shoulders up, back straight and hands behind his back.

He left the military a day before coming to the test.

“When I arrived there were thousands of people there. I wondered how the Department of Transport was going to carry it out. There were no facilities, it was very hot and there was no water, and I only saw one tap.

“… I was in the army so I am used to physical exercise.”

Nonkululeko Mayeza of Umzinto said: “When I arrived, there were too many people, they [the DoT] were not prepared …”

The former police officer said she did not find the exercise too strenuous and only suffered sunburn.

“It is tragic that people died and I feel sorry for the families.”

TWO lines from the brief statement read out by the Premier Senzo Mchunu on Wednesday on the RTI commission suggest DoT human resource officials may be in the firing line.

The lines read: “The human resources section was co-ordinating the fitness test for the first time. They had no experience and relied on people who were not from RTI but from Special Operations.”

Human resources manager Sindi Zwane’s actions came under scrutiny during the commission for the decision to rush the recruitment process and to continue with the exercise despite warnings from other officials, including the hospital manager being flooded with patients, to stop the exercise.

Attempts to speak to Zwane about the report were unsuccessful.

An official from her office, who did not give her name when told The Witness was calling for Zwane, said Zwane would only be available at 10 am today.

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