Distraught school principals put on brave faces after horror minibus crash

2017-04-26 08:20
Christina Tjiana‚ principal of Mahlenga Secondary School in Sokhulumi village near Bronkhorstspruit (Screengrab)

Christina Tjiana‚ principal of Mahlenga Secondary School in Sokhulumi village near Bronkhorstspruit (Screengrab)

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Verena – "Let the weak say I am strong."

These are the words of a principal who lost four learners in the horrific minibus crash on the R25 near Verena, Mpumalanga on Friday afternoon. The minibus crashed into a truck.

Twenty people were killed in the crash; 18 pupils and two adults.

In total, nine learners from Mahlenga Senior Secondary School were involved in the accident. Four of them have already been discharged from hospital, while another is still in hospital.

Christinah Tjiana has been the principal at the school since September 2014.

Tjiana stays in Bronkhorstspruit, about 30km away. She was one of the many who immediately rushed to the scene when they were informed about the accident.

"When I arrived, the paramedics were already there. It was one of the scariest things, I could not believe what I saw," Tjiana says.

'No more screaming and crying'

Her voice breaks and she fiddles with her wedding ring when she recalls seeing the tiny bodies being removed from the wreckage. No screams were heard coming from the minibus.

"We could still see how paramedics were taking the remains of the learners out of the minibus. There was no more screaming and crying," Tjiana says.

The 52-year-old principal sits in her office chair. Behind her are trophies and medals for Best Performing School.

She says it was not easy to stand in front of the learners and tell them about the incident.

"When the minister addressed them, they were calm and it was not chaotic. During the debriefing when I told them who the learners involved in the crash were, they started crying," she says.

Tjiana’s voice is filled with emotion when she says one of the learners cried hysterically and tried to run away, but was later caught by a teacher.

The teachers of Mahlenga Secondary still find it hard to deal with the incident, but the weak will continue to say, "We are strong", she says.

WATCH: Bronkhorstspruit: 'I couldn't believe it was my children in those ashes'

'I will never forget the day'

Refano Primary School can be spotted among the hills less than a kilometre from the main road. It is a combination of mud buildings and mobile classrooms. The school is surrounded with open fields and dusty roads. A few school buses are parked at the entrance of the gate.

It is about 5km away from Mahlenga Senior Secondary School.

Principal Lucia Xolo, 53, says they were just about to start the school governing body meeting when she was called by one of the parents to inform her about the accident.

"I could not contain myself; I collapsed and was rushed to the clinic. When I woke up I wanted to know the whereabouts of my learners," Xolo says.

She later went to the accident scene with disbelief that her learners had died in the crash.

"I can’t explain, it was too painful for me. I lost family members and I experienced pain before, but it cannot be compared to the pain that I had on Friday. I will heal, but I will never forget the day," she says.

The petite principal stands outside one of the mobile classes. There is a sense of pride in her voice when she says she was also once a learner at Refano Primary School.

Counselling for teachers and learners

She points to a nearby mud building where her Grade 1 classroom was.

Seventeen learners from the school were involved in the crash, as well as one general worker.

Three survived, two of whom have been discharged from hospital.

The department of education has provided counselling for both teachers and learners.

Nurses in uniform can be seen on the school premises.

"The younger ones don’t fully understand what happened and the older ones have a better understanding," one of the government counsellors says.

The education department said on Monday they would provide a date for the memorial services and funerals once the DNA tests were completed.

Read more on:    mpumalanga  |  crashes  |  accidents  |  education

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