‘Missing wires’ mast tragedy

2017-11-12 06:01
The light fixture that fell on seven children, killing five, in Soshanguve’s X section last Saturday. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

The light fixture that fell on seven children, killing five, in Soshanguve’s X section last Saturday. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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Susan Bopape, who lost two grandchildren when a ring of high-mast streetlights fell on several children in Soshanguve last weekend, killing five, swears she reported a problem with the structure to authorities, but nothing was done about it.

The light, which is next to her house, stands as a sad reminder that the Tshwane municipality and a ward councillor she called to attend to the matter let her down.

The heavy ring with six floodlights attached came crashing down the mast and fell on the children last Saturday afternoon.

Still hanging underneath one of the mangled lights is a small piece of human flesh with tiny parts of skull and hair attached.

Sand was poured over the concrete slab and around the flange which is bolted to it, in an attempt to cover the blood.

Tiny drops are still visible underneath and around the pole.

According to residents in Soshanguve Block X, the technicians who last visited the area to fix the lights last year, told them the light – one of several in the area – was not working because some “wires were missing and probably stolen”.

The community’s growing concern was that not having lights at night contributed to the escalation of crime in the area.

People were being robbed of their cellphones and other valuables while walking home from work in the dark.

Bopape told City Press this week that the high-mast lights and several others had been out of order for the last four years – even after technicians came to check on them sometime last year.

“They pulled down the ring holding the heavy lights and later told us the wires were missing.

"They left, promising to come back to fix them. That was the last we saw of them.

“All was normal with the Apollo [the high-mast light] until I received a frantic call from a community member saying children had been killed by the very same light.

"I came running, thinking the whole pole had fallen on them.

“When I arrived, I found my two grandchildren [11-year-old Boitshoko and six-year-old Dimpho] dead. It was a horrific scene,” she said, fighting back tears.

Earlier this week, Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga issued a press statement in which he said: “We find ourselves in sorrow following the deviant acts of villains hellbent on thieving the city’s infrastructure.

It is unfortunate that this vandalisation (sic) of electricity wires has terminated the lives of innocent souls.”

But Bopape and her neighbours wanted to know what the stolen wires had to do with securing the lights to the mast.

“What if the technicians who came here did not tighten the screws after they hoisted the lights back up there? Is it possible they could have missed something?” she asked.

She said she last saw her grandchildren that Saturday morning and they were their happy, normal selves.

“If I only knew that was the last time I would see them alive and in one piece,” she lamented.

The children’s aunt, Mavis Bopape, said the family was traumatised.

“It is not easy for us to wake up and the first thing we see when we walk out of the house is a pile of mangled lights still left there.

“Everything is a reminder of the tragedy. How should we even start dealing with it?” she wondered.

She called for people to stop politicising their tragedy.

Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga was chased from the area when he tried to visit the scene and the grieving families this week.

ANC leaders in the area blamed the DA-led Tshwane council for indirectly causing the deaths by failing to maintain the infrastructure.

“They must stop politics and do the right thing like fixing the lights and preventing further loss of life,” Mavis said.

Lenah Manong, a local resident, said that since the lights were not working, the municipality should remove the masts.

“What if they fall on our houses and kill even more people?” she asked.

Responding to City Press’ questions, the municipality said:

“It is now undeniably clear that the ANC in Tshwane has given up all pretence of caring about the people and is now using people’s pain to drive a political agenda.”

The Tshwane municipality did not to respond directly to residents’ complaints about the lights and what was being done to ensure a similar incident did not recur.

Acting Tshwane mayoral spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said a “sensitive investigation” was under way and that the city did not want to compromise its integrity.

“Once the outcome of the probe has been concluded, the city will pronounce on the matter.”

The three other children killed were Kearabile Baloyi, Lethabo Lebese and Maikano Khoza, all aged between six and 12.

Two others were injured.

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