Pietermaritzburg - Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic Imbali crash that killed eight children. For their parents, the “sorrow and heartbreak” they felt on the day of the crash has been ever present.
On January 28 last year, a bakkie crowded with over 24 Fezokuhle Primary School pupils smashed into an Imbali home, instantly killing six children, after crashing through the gates and straight through the two front rooms of the house.
Piles of rubble covered the crumpled wreck of the bakkie while Pietermaritzburg Search and Rescue, the fire department and paramedics worked frantically to pull children from the twisted metal.
Bloodied school bags and shoes were piled on top of each other outside the house, as emergency services worked to recover the bodies of six children between the ages of five and 11.
The six little bodies, covered in silver sheeting, were laid on the front lawn of the wrecked house as passersby, fellow pupils, teachers and family wept hysterically at the site of the carnage.
With the driver of the bakkie, Lungile Mthimkhulu, expected to appear in court today, little has changed with regards to how children are transported in the province.
“I miss her every single day,” said Simphiwe Chonco, father of five-year-old Sinethemba Chonco who died instantly in the crash.
“I am not okay. I remember everything like it happened yesterday and I miss my little girl so much,” he said.
“The family is still heartbroken. We have not learnt to deal with her death and all we want now is justice for our daughter and the other families.”
Chonco said although he knew the driver was appearing in court today, he did “not have the strength to face her”.
“I can’t do it. My wife is going but I cannot. It is too traumatic for me. I am angry and I am shattered.
“I just want answers about the accident that killed my daughter, but to this day none of the families have heard anything from her.”
Father of two children who survived the crash Nkosinathi Njoko said that a year after the accident, his daughter was still struggling with the aftermath.
Njoko’s daughter Mbaluleki (13) and son Siyamthanda (8) miraculously survived the horror crash last year. Mbaluleki had been in hospital for months after the accident. “Both my children are doing fine, but my daughter’s marks have dropped a bit at school due to crippling headaches,” he said.
“We are constantly going to the doctor. Recently they did a CT scan and the results showed she had a blood clot on her brain and now she is on chronic medication. We are worried about her.”
Njoko said his wife was going to court today and would be in later to show support. “We just want to find out the truth because we have never had any explanation from her as to what happened. She hasn’t spoken to any of us.
“When we saw her in court previously she just ignored us, like nothing ever happened.
“There hasn’t been any apology and now we just want justice and we want closure.”
Fezokuhle Primary School governing body chair Botsotso Mahlaba said the school would be holding a prayer for the pupils they lost in the crash next week.
“There have been a few tears these last few days. The children are emotional, especially the parents of the children who were in the crash,” he said.
“As a school, we are doing what we can, and offering counselling to those who need it.
“We are going to court with the parents, because we support them and they are our children that died in the crash, but only the court can judge and not the school,” he said.
Mthimkhulu is expected to appear in the Pietermaritzburg regional court today. She has been charged with eight counts of culpable homicide, and alternatively with negligent driving.
Her trial date is yet to be set by the court.
‘We won’t forget what happened’
STRUGGLING to come to terms with the aftermath of the horrific crash, Sibusiso Ngubeni, the owner of the Imbali house the bakkie crashed into, said his family had suffered a major emotional and financial setback.
“My wife and children were the most affected by the crash because they saw the blood and bodies of those children laying in our yard.
“She had to undergo counselling and we will not forget what happened that day,” he said.
“When I arrived home from work the bodies had already been removed but when I saw my house, I could not believe what had happened to it. It was a disaster,” said Ngubeni.
Ngubeni said they had tried many times to meet with the driver and her family.
Ngubeni’s neighbour Mte Duma said the memories of the crash made her uneasy.
“I was at home when I heard a massive bang followed by the loud cries of children,” she said.
“I rushed to the scene and all I could see was pools of blood. The children’s school bags were covered in blood and they were crying terribly. It was a very sad day,” said Duma.
She said since the accident the community had requested a local councillor to build speed humps but nothing had been done other than the building of barriers.
“It’s heartbreaking because people have not learned from what happened last year, they are still speeding.
“The bend and the steepness of the hill is very dangerous and we do not want to see another tragedy such as last year,” she said.