N2 Pongola horror crash: 19 learners confirmed dead, KwaZulu-Natal
At least 19 learners and two adults have been killed in a horror crash between a truck and van that was transporting learners on the N2 highway in the Pongola area in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The accident occurred shortly after 14h00 on Friday, 16 September 2022, about 20km northwest of Pongola. Paramedics from KZN EMS and other emergency services personnel were on scene until late into the night, extricating bodies of the deceased from the wreckage. Initially, 10 learners were reported dead, the number then increased to 16 and one child who was fighting for his life in hospital after suffering critical injuries also succumbed to the injuries and two others reportedly died taking the death toll to 21.
Of the 21 lives that were claimed by the horror crash, 19 are of children aged between 5 and 12 years.
Dash cam footage shows the speeding truck driver attempting to overtake another truck when he crashed on to the bakkie that was transporting school pupils.
According to reports, the driver of the truck reportedly fled the scene and is responsible for the accident (even though authorities have not confirmed as yet). The driver reportedly got off his truck and hiked for a lift from another truck that passed by and ran away.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport (DoT) on Saturday announced that the driver of the truck that ploughed into the bakkie transporting 19 schoolchildren and two adults, has been arrested.
This after he reportedly handed himself over to police just hours after Transport MEC Sipho Hlomuka appealed to him to do so. After opening a case of culpable homicide, police launched a manhunt for the driver who reportedly fled the scene of the accident.
Sibusiso Siyaya, aged 28 appeared in the Pongola Magistrate’s Court on Monday on 21 counts of culpable homicide and a case of negligent driving. During his court appearance, Siyaya opposed the media’s application to film or photograph the proceedings of his case, saying he feared for his safety and retaliation from the community. The state argued that while the accused’s rights should be respected, they should be balanced with those of the general public. The court confirmed that Siyaya may not be filmed or photographed until the outcome of his bail application next week. Siyaya was also provisionally granted legal aid because he didn’t have legal representation. The case was deferred to 26 September 2022 for his bail hearing.
The State is opposing Siyaya’s bail application alleging that he attempted to avoid justice when he fled the accident scene.
The MEC has said he would attend proceedings. “His arrest is important in assisting the families to deal with the devastation of losing their relatives. We commend the police who had to activate all systems to make sure the driver was pressured to surrender himself. We will be there to support the people of Phongolo and the families during his court appearance on Monday,” said MEC Hlomuka.
The driver of the articulated coal truck that collided head-on with a bakkie and killed 18 pupils, the driver and assistant teacher in Pongola last week had been driving in the oncoming lane for about 1,2km.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula revealed details of the horror crash on Thursday during a media briefing at the scene in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The report by the Road Traffic Management Corporation found that the driver, Sibusiso Siyaya, overtook multiple vehicles, an action prohibited by no overtaking lines. “The driver recklessly overtook vehicles and drove on the oncoming lane for approximately 1,2km. Vehicles had to swerve out of the way. The driver made no attempt to return to his lane. Driver error is the major factor to the cause of the route crash.”
Mbalula said while the truck driver's actions were extremely reckless, the driver transporting the 19 primary school pupils had been doing so illegally.
“The driver of the van was transporting scholars at the back of the van. This is illegal and extremely dangerous for the passengers at the back of a goods vehicle and highlights the importance of scholar transport in our country. Regulation 250 of the National Road Traffic Act of 1996 prohibits transportation of school children or any other person in a goods compartment of a vehicle for a reward.”
He said the contents of the report would be handed to the director of public prosecutions and the senior public prosecutor for their consideration.
He said immediate interventions on the route, which has been labelled as a “death trap” by residents, included:
SANRAL had already begun planning a R2,2bn project to upgrade and widen the stretch of road on the N2, he said.
KZN's MEC for transport has been instructed to appoint someone to investigate transport companies and drivers, Mbalula said, adding that vehicle roadworthiness must be assessed and drivers retested where necessary.
Pongola Mayor Velephi Sikhosana expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the death of 19 pupils and two adults in the collision between a bakkie and a truck near Pongola, was “another sad moment for our country, following the substantial loss of young lives in an Eastern Cape tavern recently”. He said South Africa could not afford to lose precious lives under any conditions. “I hope the investigation into the Pongola incident will shed light on the cause of this tragedy and help us take better care of our children into the future.”
Sources: Zululand Observer, Africa Press, The Citizen