Zwanga Mukhuthu and Nashira Davids
THE 20 people who died in a horror accident involving two taxis and a truck in the Western Cape yesterday were all from the Eastern Cape. Two children, whose ages are unknown, and a 20-month- old baby were among the dead.
The accident happened at about 2am on a stretch of road between Laingsburg and Prince Albert, dubbed “the road of death”.
A total of 2831 people have been involved in 1073 accidents on that section of the N1 over the past 12 years, according to statistics issued yesterday by outraged Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle.
Of that number, 205 died. In September last year, 23 people died in one accident, and a month later 13 people died in another crash.
Eastern Cape Arrive Alive spokesman Tshepo Machaea said of the 20 people killed in yesterday’s crash, three people in one of the taxis had been from Sterkspruit and 17 in the other taxi from Alice. Seventeen people were injured.
Witnesses said bodies had been flung over a wide area when the taxis slammed into the truck.
Traffic officials said the taxis, travelling to Cape Town, had collided with the stationary truck on the N1 near Prince Albert.
“There have been a lot of accidents on that stretch of the road,” Western Cape traffic boss Kenny Afrika said.
He said the truck had broken down and was partially blocking the road.
A 23-seater minibus taxi travelling from Alice ploughed head-on into the truck’s trailer, followed shortly by a second 21-seater from Sterkspruit.
The driver of the Alice taxi died at the scene, but the other driver had only minor injuries.
The truck driver was not in the vehicle, having gone to a nearby service station.
Emergency Medical Services spokesman Keri Davids said nine of the injured had been taken to hospitals in Beaufort West, Prince Albert and Laingsburg. Two of the injured were in a critical condition.
She said paramedics had used the jaws of life to free some of the passengers.
The owner of the Alice taxi, Bonnie Bokwe, was distraught. “I had to be there to believe it. I’m still shocked at what happened,” he said. “My driver died at the scene. We are deeply heartsore.”
He said the taxi had been fully roadworthy.
Eastern Cape Transport MEC Thandiswa Marawu conveyed her condolences to the victims’ families. “We will make sure the families are assisted with transport and funeral arrangements in this dark hour,” she said.
Machaea said an Eastern Cape government delegation would meet the families of the dead this afternoon.
Police said they were investigating a case of culpable homicide.
“We expect that very serious charges – murder or culpable homicide — will be brought against the two surviving drivers, one the truck driver and the other the driver of the second taxi to hit the truck,” Carlisle said.
“This is an appalling tragedy.”
Carlisle also announced a plan to introduce speed cameras in the area “as quickly as we can”.
“The crash occurred in a very clearly demarcated 80km/h zone.
“I am particularly concerned about fully loaded taxis travelling, often with packed trailers, at 100km/h.”
Carlisle said postmortems on the bodies would start in Oudtshoorn today.
Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said: “Ultimately what we need and what we are building is a culture of responsibility where everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis.
“People need to start realising that every road user’s actions can either save, or claim, a life.
“That life can be yours, or the life of a loved one.”
Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele sent his condolences to the victims’ families.
He said officials of the Road Accident Fund were providing assistance to them.
An independent team of reconstruction specialists had been sent to assist in the investigation, Ndebele’s spokesman Logan Maistry said.
“We are repeating our calls for all public transport operators to ensure that no long-distance trip is undertaken without a relief driver, particularly as we head towards the December holidays.”
He said no mercy would be shown to those who disregarded road rules.
Additional reporting by Sapa