KwaZulu-Natal - A horrific accident that claimed the lives of 10 children and the minibus taxi driver who was transporting them to Bergville on Saturday night has prompted the provincial Education Department to suspend all future school trips.
This latest incident adds to another 17 who perished in various accidents in the province recently.
Education MEC Senzo Mchunu announced that he would suspend school trips, including to matric dances and farewells and for sports events, for the rest of the year, at an address to grieving parents, families, friends and teachers at the municipal offices in Bergville on Sunday.
The 10 pupils of Okhombe Primary School - all of whom were under 13-years-old - died with their driver when their taxi crashed into a cow before plunging into a river below.
Earliy investigations revealed that parts of a bridge railing, where the taxi was believed to have been passing over at the time, had apparently been vandalised by “metal thieves”.
Six children survived the crash and were discharged from the Ladysmith Hospital on Sunday.
Teachers said the children had been travelling from Mnambithi, where they had taken part in sports games at a school on Saturday morning.
Mchunu said the department would issue a statement and letters would be sent to all provincial schools on Monday notifying them that school trips, matric dances, farewells and sports trips had been suspended for the rest of the year.
“We want to find out what is wrong. Accidents are occurring weekly and we cannot just move forward,” he said.
“We will allow matric dances on condition that pupils walk to the venue. No transport must be used.”
He cautioned that action would be taken against schools that did not comply.
Trips would be allowed, but only after the school had motivated them to the department. The department would then decide whether or not to grant permission.
He said the Department of Transport was doing everything in its power, and the call to cancel school trips was an extra cautionary measure.
“The only exception are learners going to and from school.”
Paul Colditz of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools said what had happened was tragic, but the MEC could only act within the law – and the law did not allow the MEC to cancel such events.
“Every child who is killed is one child too many, but the MEC’s plan will not necessarily address the actual problem, which is driving on the roads.”
Transport and Safety MEC Willies Mchunu warned that during October – Transport Month – his department would “pay attention to vehicles transporting pupils”.
The 10 pupils who died on Saturday have been identified as Grade 5 pupils Thabo Hlongwane, Amanda Mazibuko, Hlobisile Mbhele, Mandisa Miya, Phumelele Miya, Kwanele Mlambo, Cebo Nkosi, Nolwazi Shezi, Nontobeko Shezi and Hlengiwe Dlamini.
Mayville Mbhele, the grandmother of twins – deceased Hlobisile and survivor Sandisile Mbhele – said she could not sleep because of the pain.
“I lived with both of them all my life. I am thankful that Sandisile survived, but she keeps crying and asks about her sister,” she said, bursting into tears.
Another grandmother, Elda Miya, said she was “devastated”.
“I have raised Mandisa since she was a child and hoped she would finish school while I am alive.”
On Saturday morning, one pupil died and 13 were injured when their taxi overturned and struck a wall in New Hanover, paramedics said.
ER24 spokesman Derrick Banks said the pupils had been on their way home from a matric dance after-party when their taxi crashed.
Since last month close to 30 pupils have died in accidents in the province. - The Mercury with additional editing by IOL