Maverick Citizen

KZN CHILDREN TRAGEDY

Devastated Pongola families try to find peace after truck smashes into school vehicle, killing 18

Devastated Pongola families try to find peace after truck smashes into school vehicle, killing 18
Nonhlanhla Ntshangase, 40, says she still forgets that she won’t be preparing her twins and their older brother for school in the morning after they died in the Pongola truck crash. (Siyabonga Mbhele)

While families cope with the grief of losing 17 children and a teacher after a truck smashed into a school transport vehicle three weeks ago, an enraged northern KZN community is turning away trucks from the N2 and demanding action.

Thandi Simelani, 40, laughs as she remembers her daughter Thingo’s antics. “If she were here, she would have asked a hundred questions by now, jumping off the couches, back and forth to the door,” Simelani says.

Her laughs quickly turn into tears when she thinks of all the things Thingo (5) will never get to do. “I thought she would be an athlete, because she loved physical activity, dancing, sports, playing outside, she could never stay still for too long.”

pongola truck crash thingo

Thingo Simelani was a bubbly, sporty child who loved dancing and being with friends. Thandi says her grandmother Sthembile Simelani treasured her and hoped no other parent would lose a child on Pongola roads. (Photo: Supplied)

pongola thandi simelani

Thandi Simelani, 40, says her whole family is inconsolable over the death of her five-year-old daughter Thingo Simelani. (Photo: Siyabonga Mbhele)

Thingo is one of 18 children and a teacher who died in a horrific crash in Pongola when a truck collided head-on with a scholar transport vehicle three weeks ago. Pressure caused by trucks on the roads had been associated with several crashes.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said Sanral plans to attend to the challenges.

Mbalula said about R2.5-billion would be used to expand the N2 highway near Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The driver of the truck, Sibusiso Siyaya, 28, abandoned his bail bid and will appear in the Pongola Magistrates’ Court in the coming weeks. Residents Maverick Citizen spoke to said companies were partly to blame for their reckless hiring practices.

The aftermath

Simelani says she is trying to make peace with her daughter’s death, but can’t yet face the truck driver. “I don’t even want to see the driver or be part of the case, to him our children are just numbers, but to us, they are very important people, Thingo is the youngest of my two children, her sister is 17 years old so now all that love and hope we were nurturing, it feels like it was for nothing. The house is empty and boring now,” said Simelani.

Nonhlanhla Ntshangase, 40, had a horrible birthday on 27 September, as all three of her children died in the same crash. When we walk into her home in the KwaNcube area, we find her in the family tuck shop, “I use the shop to stay busy and try to forget,” she says as she lets us into the quiet house. “My birthday was awful, I kept thinking about how excited they were, they asked me to buy a cake for them separately from the adults so they wouldn’t have to wait,” Ntshangase said.

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Ntshangase lost eight-year-old twins Minenhle and Nothando Ntshangase, along with their older brother Thembelihle Ntshangase, 10. She says Thembelihle was smart and kind and always took good care of his younger siblings who said they wanted to be pilots when they grew up. Ntshangase lights up as she explains, “I asked them if they knew what pilots did and they said ‘yes mom, we will drive aeroplanes’, I was so impressed because when we were younger we only knew about teaching and nursing as careers” 

Ntshangase, 40, says she has replayed the accident in different ways in her head, each coming out with an outcome where the children survive, but then she wakes up to face reality and has decided “maybe it was time”. When she imagined the crash, she said, “it makes me so sad”.

“I don’t care what happens to him (arrested truck driver Siyaya) now because it will not bring my children back; it might help others be more responsible to see him get punished, but I am not invested in what happens to him,” Ntshangase said.

Community outrage and remedies

The Pongola crash was the last straw for communities who live next to the N2 in Pongola. It has triggered anger towards truck drivers.

Trucks travelling from Mpumalanga and into KZN through Pongola were being turned away by the community and they threatened to burn any if they spotted them.

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Authorities set up roadblocks on a stretch of road near where the Pongola crash happened. (Photo: Siyabonga Mbhele)

The South African Police Service, Military Police, KZN Department of Transport, Metro Police, and other authorities recently lined a stretch of the road, near where the crash happened, carrying out spot checks. Police Superintendent Morné Naudé said the checks would continue to ensure road safety.

“We are doing it to promote road safety here, this is quite an unforgiving road. We are here to enforce the law to the full might. The community is upset about it, they were blocking the trucks. So this will be an ongoing thing to serve the community in that way, rather we make sure drivers comply with the law than let it escalate to trucks being burnt and potentially causing another fatal accident,” Naudé said.

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A mass funeral was held on 24 September for 14 of the children.

Induna Patrick Mthimkhulu, a traditional leader in the Moyeni area, welcomed the Transport Ministry’s plans to improve the roads. “The trucks were huge problems, hundreds pass here. We have suggestions such as trucks having marshalls like the taxi industry to control how many are on the road and which route they can take, some can move through Dumbe while some take the N2 because it’s unsustainable as is.”

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Anele Mkhize says she has been helping children cross the road for two years under the umbrella of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport. (Photo: Siyabonga Mbhele)

Induna Makhosana Buthelezi from the Mabophe area said there was a shortage of police and resources in the area. “Even the SAPS, they only have one vehicle so the Metro Police here don’t have enough people or cars to guard the roads properly. There are also not enough humps and consistent street signs to deter people from reckless driving in the dangerous parts such as from Mlokho to Tshwelibube.

Parents who spoke to Maverick Citizen echoed these sentiments and said more had to be done to ensure safety. They also mentioned the pay-per-load system by logistic companies as a factor that contributed to risky truck driver behaviour. “If people were paid properly, not per load done, there would be less pressure to drive fast and recklessly to meet deadlines and do more loads,” said Buthelezi. DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    So 18 passengers, Is that legal? What type of vehicle were they driving in? Who caused the accident? So little detail. Spending billions on a roadway may just be a waste of money. It may not be the roadways fault.

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