Driver error and reckless driving to blame for deadly Pongola crash - Mbalula

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Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula was speaking at a press briefing on Thursday at the site of the horror accident on the N2 near Pongola.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula was speaking at a press briefing on Thursday at the site of the horror accident on the N2 near Pongola.
Kaveel Singh
  • An investigation found that driver error contributed to last week's deadly crash on the N2 in Pongola.
  • Fikile Mbalula briefed the media on a probe's findings on Thursday.
  • Mbalula defended his move to fly to Qatar on the day that 18 pupils and two adults were killed.

The driver of the articulated truck, which collided head-on with a bakkie in Pongola last week, had been driving in the oncoming lane for about 1.2 kilometres, overtaking multiple vehicles. 

Eighteen schoolchildren and two adults were killed in the accident last week.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on Thursday revealed during a media briefing that driver error was to blame for the deadly crash.

The report by the Road Traffic Management Corporation found that the driver, Sibusiso Siyaya, 28, overtook multiple vehicles.

"The report found that the driver of the articulated truck overtook multiple vehicles, where this action was prohibited by no-overtaking lines, in a dangerous and unlawful manner. 

"The driver never made any attempt to return to his correct lane, but continued driving against oncoming traffic. The report concludes that driver error is the major contributing factor to the root cause of the road crash."

Mbalula said the driver transporting the 18 primary school pupils had also been doing so illegally. 

READ | Scholar transport has to be a priority, says Equal Education after Pongola horror crash tragedy

"The driver of the van was transporting scholars at the back of the van. This is illegal and extremely dangerous for the passengers at the back of a goods vehicle and highlights the importance of scholar transport in our country," he said.

He added that the National Road Traffic Act prohibits the transportation of schoolchildren or any other person in a goods compartment of a vehicle for a reward.

Facing a barrage of criticism following the Pongola accident, as well as his earlier hurried response to TV celebrity Anele Mdoda on Twitter over her fixing potholes request, which had South Africans fuming, an emotional Mbalula said he could not reply to everyone on Twitter, but tried his best to get to all concerns. 

"I have 2.8 million followers, only myself, Julius Malema and President Ramaphosa have more than a million followers. When you say I only respond to celebrities, I don't know what you mean."

WATCH | KZN man saves woman from fiery truck crash, 2 people injured

He said that, while Mdoda raised the issue of a road repair with him on social media, he did not say he would fix it, but instead asked her to direct message him.

"I didn't say I will fix it. I asked her to DM me and that was it. I respond to all sorts of complaints and insults [on Twitter]. I am the most visible and accessible minister on Twitter," he added.

"I have never stopped my Twitter account because someone is swearing at me or anything of that sort. When someone raises the issues of the roads, they are not the only ones. There are many roads that are killer roads."

Mbalula added that he was not beholden to celebrities who live lives of excess. 

"The potholes are not closing because of a celebrity. Don't tell me about people who wake up drunk and tweet. Don't tell me about those people. Tell me about real people, people on Twitter are not real people."

Mbalula was also criticised online after it was revealed that a member of the Pongola community had been writing to him on Twitter for years, pleading for the road conditions in the town to be fixed. 

READ | Pongola horror crash: Truck driver 'must languish in jail' - KZN acting premier

And he received further backlash for going on an international government visit to Qatar on the day of the Pongola crash.

Defending his move to travel to Qatar, Mbalula said he had sent his team to assist in Pongola.

He said there should have been law enforcement monitoring the N2 in Pongola.

"I was on the road to Qatar, when a useless individual on the road driving recklessly killed 18 kids. I didn't know there are no police here. In my expectation, there should have been police here.

"I am not here to defend myself. If we did not do anything, I will be the first to say we did not and say there are steps I will take. The accident did not happen because the roads have potholes. It happened because of driver error."

The number of trucks on national roads is too many, he said.

"These trucks are not supposed to be on the road. We are supposed to move these trucks from road to rail. But the rail is not up to scratch," he added.

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