Though he feels honoured, he’s always thought of his son as a hero, says Donovan Olckers, father of Roydon Olckers, one of the deceased in the Hoërskool Driehoek walkway collapse tragedy.
Roydon, 17, was in matric at Driehoek and saved the lives of two Grade 8 learners when a first-storey concrete walkway collapsed. He’s now been nominated for the Order of Mendi for Bravery, which is a national honour awarded by the government.
On 1 February, when the walkway collapsed, Roydon shoved Caitelin Harris and Denise Fourie aside – they’d been walking under the walkway when he realised it was about to collapse. Moments later the walkway gave way. Roydon died on the scene.
The tragedy claimed the lives of four pupils, as well as injuring 20 others.
Dr Dewald Venter, a senior lecturer in tourism management and a graduate of Hoërskool Driehoek, told YOU the tragedy at his alma mater affected him deeply. He lives in Vanderbiljpark in the Vaal Triangle where the school is located.
"As someone who researches military heritage and as a writer I work closely with former and current members of the armed forces. Their stories of heroism, heartache and hope reminded me of Roydon’s selfless act. I’m familiar with the Order of Mendi and it’s stringent requirements. I believe we owe it to Roydon to honour him for his selflessness and love for his fellow humans."
The Presidency awards the honour to South Africans for exceptional acts of bravery, such as placing their own lives in danger or who’ve lost their lives in an attempt to save another’s life or property – in our outside South Africa.
The order is named after the SS Mendi, a South African steamship that went down during World War 1 with 600 black soldiers as well as several white officers on board. The soldiers had been underway to France to assist British forces.
The ship sank in the English Channel near the Isle of Wight after it collided with another ship on 21 February 1917.
Donovan says he met the girls Roydon saved.
"A counsellor asked if I’d come to pray with them. I did, because I wanted to help bring them healing."
He says Dewald let him know first that he wants to nominate Roydon for the order. "I’m grateful he let me know and he has my blessing. In my eyes, Roydon’s always been a hero. Everyone who knew him will tell you he was a special laaitie [boy] who brought joy and laughter everywhere he went.
"He wasn’t perfect – like anybody, he had faults."
Hein Knoetzé, headmaster of Hoërskool Driehoek, says he’s aware of the nomination.
"Everything at school is still upside-down – I haven’t had a chance to even think about it or talk to the two girls," he says. "But I think it’d be good to honour Roydon. I’m glad that something positive can come out of this tragedy."