United in grief‚ pupils in their school uniforms packed the Sokhulumi community hall yesterday to remember 18 of their peers and two adults who died in a horror minibus accident in Verena, near Bronkhorstspruit, on April 21.
School choirs took turns paying tribute to their peers in song, while bereaved family members sobbed inconsolably.
Community members‚ government officials and parents also came out in their numbers for the memorial service ahead of the mass funeral for most of the victims to be held at the weekend.
The group died when the minibus they were travelling in crashed into a truck and burst into flames, leaving almost all of them burnt beyond recognition.
Forensic experts finalised the process of identification on Monday. The results of DNA tests to identify the badly burnt remains will be given to the families today.
Seven other people were injured in the crash and three of them remain in hospital.
Huge memorial stones bearing the names of the 18 pupils who died are to be erected at the two affected schools.
Speaking at yesterday’s memorial service, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the memorial stones would be unveiled on April 21 next year at the main entrances of Refano Primary School in Verena‚ which 14 of the victims attended‚ and at Mahlenga Secondary school in Sokhulumi, which the other four attended.
Lesufi said they would serve as a reminder of the disaster.
“[April 21] will remain a dark day for our education‚” he said.
Lesufi also announced that tomorrow at exactly 8am, 2.3 million pupils at all of Gauteng’s schools will gather at assemblies at their respective schools to sing in one voice as part of a symbolic send-off for their peers.
His announcement that the government had resolved to provide state-funded scholar transport for Mpumalanga pupils attending schools in Gauteng and that the R25 – dubbed the road of death – where the accident happened would be revamped‚ received applause from the gathered mourners.
The taxi industry‚ SA National Taxi Alliance Council and National Taxi Alliance will make taxis available to ferry mourners to the mass funeral on Saturday.
Bus company Putco has also pledged to transport mourners.
Seventeen of the victims‚ including one of the adults, will be buried in Wolvenkop in Verena on Saturday while two pupils will be buried on Sunday in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo respectively.
The driver of the minibus was buried in Wolvenkop last Saturday.