Drama at bus-tragedy service

2003-05-05 13:51

Kimberley - Several grieving family members fainted on Monday at a memorial service held here for victims of the Workers' Day bus disaster near Bethlehem in the Free State last Thursday.

The service was organised by the Sol Plaatje municipality, Kimberley.

More than 2 000 people packed the historic town hall for the service, which lasted about three hours. Chairs had to be lined up outside for mourners who listened to the messages via loudspeakers.

At least 41 of the 51 labour union members who had drowned in the Saulspoort Dam outside Bethlehem were employed by the Sol Plaatje municipality, said Sello Matsie on Friday.

They were on their way from Kimberley to QwaQwa for a Workers Day rally when their bus plunged into the dam in the early hours of Thursday morning. The driver apparently had lost his bearings in the dark.

Municipal nurse Benjamin Khoza said on Monday they had to treat several people who fainted or became hysterical during the service.

Upset relatives of victims were also supported during the service by counsellors from social services and population development.

Food packages for all the families

One of the counsellors said most of victims were from the poor townships of Vergenoeg No 5 and Roodepan in Kimberley.

They were mostly the only breadwinners in extended families, and financial worries were now among the main concerns of the ones left behind.

The government delivered food packages at the weekend to all the families. Social support for them would now be extended for up to four months in extraordinary cases, said the social worker.

The Rev Ernest Jolane, who led the memorial service, called on families to "take forward the struggle for better conditions for workers".

"We can only honour their memories by supporting those they heeded," Jolane said.

Regional secretary for the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) Parks Modise said the victims had died "on the battlefield".

Ironically, they decided three months ago in the same hall to go to QwaQwa for the rally, because they wanted organisational renewal.

"A spear has fallen. Pick it up and let the struggle (for workers' rights) continue," said Modise.