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HORROR CRASH

Botswana pilgrims’ families wait in agony after Limpopo bus tragedy that killed 45

Botswana pilgrims’ families wait in agony after Limpopo bus tragedy that killed 45
Emergency services and rescue workers attend to the site of a bus crash in the Mamatlakala mountain pass in Limpopo province, South Africa, 29 March 2024. According to South Africa's transport ministry, 45 people died in the crash after the bus the previous day drove of a bridge. The bus was carrying passengers from Botswana to town of Moria for a local Easter religious gathering. EPA-EFE/Shiraaz Mohamed

Investigations involving Interpol and the SAPS are underway to determine the cause of the horror crash on the R518 that claimed the lives of 45 people on Thursday.

Initial information was that the driver of the bus travelling from Molepolole in Botswana to Moria in Limpopo to commemorate Easter plunged about 100m down the bridge along the R518 Mmamatlakala Pass in Limpopo.

The driver reportedly missed a turn off that would have taken the bus to the N11 road after going through the Groblersberg border post on Thursday. As a result the bus ended up on the R518 Mmamatlakala Pass.

The pass, a high accident zone, is described as one with “26 corners, one of which is a sharp hairpin of 160 degrees with a long bridge at its apex; a length of almost 10 km and a height gain of 415 metres”.

The bus in which 46 pilgrims on their way to the annual ZCC Easter pilgrimage in Moria plunged about 100m down this bridge at Mmamatlakala Pass in Limpopo killing 45 of them including the driver. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

An eight-year-old girl who was reportedly flung out of the bus before it crashed through the cement and steel barriers was the sole survivor of the crash. The girl was initially admitted to the Masebe Hospital in Bakenberg before being transferred to the Mokopane Hospital in Mahwelereng about 60km away.

On Friday some family members of the 45 pilgrims who died sat dejected in the corridors of the Mokopane Hospital as government officials from Botswana and SA deliberated on the tragedy on Good Friday.

The family members who did not want to speak to journalists had travelled from Botswana after receiving news of the accident which happened on Thursday morning in Limpopo. They sat in a mournful state on benches at the hospital as the meeting between officials went on for more than two hours.

On Friday Limpopo health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba said the girl is recovering well and is not in a critical condition. 

“The child is doing well. She is in safe hands. She is recovering and we are positive she will recover,” said Ramathuba.

Dr Sanji Monageng, Botswana’s High Commissioner to South Africa said the girl was responsive and had even provided hospital staff with her mother’s contact details out of memory, a sign that she was not critical.

Ramathuba said so far the girl had not spoken about the accident probably due to trauma. The girl was reportedly travelling with her grandmother who also died in the tragedy. 

The families now face the prospect of a long wait before they can identify and perform funeral rites due to the complexity of the identification process.

Ramathuba said by Friday rescue teams had collected the remains of some of the victims which had been salvaged into 34 body bags. Out of that number, only nine bodies were identifiable.

Emergency services and rescue workers attend the site of a bus crash in the Mamatlakala mountain pass in Limpopo province, 29 March 2024. The bus was carrying passengers from Botswana to the town of Moria for a local Easter religious gathering. EPA-EFE/Shiraaz Mohamed

She said though there were 34 body bags, this did not necessarily translate into that number of bodies. After crashing through the bridge barrier, the bus slammed onto a cluster of rocks and into flames.

Rescue workers at the scene spoke of bodies scattered around the scene among rocks and trees. Pieces of clothing hung on tree branches.

Ramathuba could not say how long the identification process, which will include the taking of DNA samples, would take as it would involve various departments.

Monageng said the pilgrims – 31 women and 15 men –  who came from Molepolole, near Gaborone, were a small close-knit community that knew each other which would help with the identification process.

“We are heartbroken. We have witnessed something that we don’t even dream of witnessing [before],” she said.

The bus in which 46 pilgrims on their way to the annual ZCC Easter pilgrimage in Moria plunged about 100m down this bridge at Mmamatlakala Pass in Limpopo killing 45 of them including the driver. On Friday afternoon pieces from the bus wreckage, including clothing and blood were still visible at the site. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

Monageng couldn’t provide details of the bus company or the driver and whether this was his first trip or if he was experienced enough to undertake such a long trip, saying this formed part of the investigation into the crash. 

She said so far the ZCC is the only one that has all the names of the pilgrims on the bus. 

Two ZCC representatives were part of the meeting between SA and Botswana government officials but the church has not made any official comment on the tragedy. 

The bus in which 46 pilgrims on their way to the annual ZCC Easter pilgrimage in Moria plunged about 100m down this bridge at Mmamatlakala Pass in Limpopo killing 45 of them including the driver. Only one passenger aged eight survived the accident and is now recovering at Mokopane Hospital in Mahwelereng about 60km from the scene of the accident. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

The police, confirming that all the victims were from Botswana, said it was working with Interpol National Central Bureau on the case. A case of culpable homicide had been registered and was being investigated.  Mukurukuru Media/DM

 

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  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    May their souls rest in peace, still don’t understand why there were no strong and tall barriers hopefully this will be looked into.

    • Johan Buys says:

      There is actually a pretty strong concrete barrier before the eventual (minor) bridge barrier, but the mass and speed of a bus is enormous energy. The driver was going too fast is basically it.

      That Maryland bridge is good example : massive ship at even moderate speed takes away anything in its path. Same thing here, with tragic outcome.

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