Covid-19

Coronavirus: Eastern Cape

Overloaded taxi in fatal crash might have picked up hitchhikers minutes before accident

The accident scene between Mount Frere and Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape where a fatal accident between a taxi and a truck claimed 15 lives on 15 April. (Photo supplied)

Several essential workers were among 15 people killed in a horror taxi crash on the N2 between Mount Frere and Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape on Wednesday. The vehicle was overloaded in terms of disaster regulations, but traffic authorities said the vehicle had gone through a police checkpoint a few kilometres before the crash site and had been compliant.

A taxi driver and his assistant, as well as several people who worked in a grocery store and others who had been out shopping, were killed late Wednesday afternoon when the taxi they were travelling in was involved in a head-on collision with a truck. The accident happened between Mount Frere and Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape at around 4.30pm.

It occurred shortly after 11 minibus taxis were turned around at a checkpoint between Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen after police found that passengers had fake permits to attend a funeral.

Among the disaster regulations announced by the government were restrictions on not only movement but also the number of people allowed in a taxi at any one time.

Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Transport, Unathi Binqose, said in general taxi drivers were complying with lockdown regulations.

She said they were investigating the cause of the accident, adding that when the taxi was stopped at the checkpoint, it had been carrying the legal number of people (10) in terms of the regulations.

“When the vehicle crashed it was in clear violation of the passenger regulations as the taxi had 15 people on board,” she said. “It had the right allocation when it passed the checkpoint but the driver may have picked up hitchhikers along the way,” she added.

“Some of those who died were essential workers but others were just coming home after a trip to the shops,” she said.

Binqose said on Sunday a total of 11 taxis, carrying more than the stipulated number of passengers, were sent back to the Western Cape for not complying with regulations.

“Some passengers clearly had fraudulent permits,” she said. “They were all fined for violating traffic laws and lockdown regulations in terms of passenger numbers.”

Eastern Cape Transport, Safety and Liaison MEC, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, expressed her shock at the accident.

“The minibus taxi had 15 occupants, a gross contravention of the 70% passenger regulation in line with the national state of disaster,” she said. “All 15 occupants of the minibus taxi, including the driver – died at the scene after the taxi they were travelling in collided head-on with a truck. The two occupants of the truck, the driver and a passenger, were rushed to hospital with serious injuries.”

She described the accident as a major setback to a province that had just recorded an unprecedented low of eight fatalities over the entire Easter period.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families during this difficult time. We also wish to call on those who, for whatever reasons, are permitted to use our roads during this lockdown period to continue being cautious and adhere to the rules of the road at all times,” she said.

“It is very disturbing that at a time when the number of Covid-19 cases is climbing on a daily basis, there are still those who have no regard for the regulations in place. The 70% passenger limit had been widely communicated and is known by everyone. It is this complete disregard for the rule of law that has led us to where we are today,” she added.

The cause of the accident is unclear at this stage.

Lixolile Petela, spokesperson for the Alfred Nzo District Municipality, said that the accident happened near Sugarbush on the N2 between Kwa Bhaca and EmaXesibeni.

He said two children, aged seven and nine, were among the deceased. DM/MC

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