This morning, media across South Africa are reporting the horrors and the heroism at the school bus accident that happened yesterday in Rheenendal in Knysna.
Children have related the screams of their fellow pupils as they tried to escape the sinking bus. One child spoke of a classmate trapped by a window. Older children pulled some of the younger ones to safety. Many escaped out the back window after one quick thinker gained a bleeding hand breaking it.
Knysna is a small community so some of the children were related. One mother lost 3 children. 2 sets of twins were lost too. That’s far deeper than sad.
Brett Staegemann, a local passing by after the crash, said that there were no children in the river when he arrived but that he had looked for survivors in the bus, battling through school bags and darkness to bring out one child that he believed died.
Divers recovered the bodies and laid them on the bridge, covering them with white blankets.
The driver was Taan Colin Payle. It’s a tragedy of circumstances as he’d retired but after the African Express bus company had failed to find a driver the month before, he’d returned. He is spoken well of by his family who said that he loved the children. African Express owner, Pravin Singh, called him “reliable”.
CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE
Unconfirmed reports are questioning the brakes on the bus. Apparently, the driver had complained about the brakes several times to his family but it’s unclear if it was for the regular bus or this smaller substitute. It was also reported that Taan, the driver, has stopped to pick up a girl at the top of a hill and that the bus had rolled backwards and toppled with her still in the doorway. Either way, the bus was overloaded which would have strained the brakes. The big question is why did Taan not make 2 runs, instead of 1, with the smaller vehicle? Was it his sole decision or was he pressurized to do so?
Charl Botha, the Director of Community Services & Housing in Knysna, has stated that both vehicles were roadworthy and tested every 6 months. He admitted that the road needed urgent attention.
If any gain is to come out of this tragedy, it’s bringing the questionable state of school vehicles and Knysna roads into the foreground.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation has stated previously that school transport needs to be made safer in South Africa. Recently, this was emphasized when the vast majority of such vehicles in Gauteng were found to be unsafe.
At the last Knysna council meeting I attended, it was said that the road budget is practically finished with only R1 million left for new surfaces and R2 million for repairs, and that hard decisions need to be made i.e. declare some roads gravel as they will be easier and cheaper to maintain.
Locals have previously reported the danger of the Rheenendal Road. Testimony to that are the wooden crosses marking several accidents along the same stretch of road.
Updates: There are tons on the internet so rather than I add another blog, let me rather give you these updates in brief –
The bus had failed it’s previous roadworthy test because of its brakes. Strangely, later the same day, it passed at the same testing centre. The question here is whether there was sufficient time to repair it or was there corruption at play. Regards my previous query regarding the overloading, they are children so although it would be unsafe to not have 1 seat per passenger, the weight may not have been a factor. I’ll leave you to discover the truth in other media.
The 44 surviving children need your help! They are in need of school clothes such as white shirts, maroon jerseys, trousers, socks & shoes, (even second-hand). As well as school bags, books, stationery etc. Knysna FM Radio Station, are currently having a collection drive in aid of this cause, so if you have anything which you would like to donate, please contact Esmeralda Botha @ 071 478 3857, for details, as they already have a collection point in place. Thanks.