BLOEMFONTEIN - Free State police and roads authorities are yet to ascertain the cause of the horrific South African National Defence Force (SANDF) bus crash which left 11 soldiers dead and many others injured, but indicated on Saturday that the road is characterised by very sharp bends.
Free State police, roads, and transport MEC Butana Komphela told reporters at 3 Military Hospital in Bloemfontein that buses were, however, permitted on that “dangerous” road.
“They [the SANDF members] were fine. Big trucks carrying goods travel that route. Only the horse and trailers [articulated trucks] are not allowed to travel there because the bends are very sharp. For buses, they can travel there like any other vehicle,” Komphela told journalists after visiting the injured soldiers in the hospital.
“For the determination of what went wrong there, we’re working with specialists from the Road Traffic Management Corporation [RTMC]. Those are the people who will tell us what went wrong. They will tell us if it was a human error or the sharp bends. I’m sure, in a month’s time, before we tell you, we will give [Defence and Military Veterans] Minister [Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula] the RTMC report,” he said.
The bus driver, one of only two men in the bus carrying female soldiers to a Women’s Day event at the Basotho Cultural Village in Clarens, survived the accident and had not been charged.
“We are not charging people before we even get some statements from passengers that were in the bus. A charge of the driver will finally be determined by the examination we’re doing with the RTMC. We have opened up a docket but there is nothing happening there.
“We’re not interviewing people while they in the state they are in now. As soon as they recover we will be collecting some few statements there. The determining statement will be the one coming from the RTMC,” Komphela said.
Mapisa-Nqakula lamented the death of the 11 female soldiers during Women’s Month.
“It was all women [who died]. This is very unfortunate because this is the highest number of women we’ve lost as the South African National Defence Force. The last number of casualties we had was in the Central African Republic. Now we’ve lost women, during their month,” she said.
Among the dead soldiers, Mapisa-Nqakula singled out chaplain Phumza Teledimo Sondlo, who she said was highly resilient and provided spiritual guidance for the soldiers at the De Brug military base, a transit facility in Bloemfontein, before they get posted on missions across South Africa and beyond its borders.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the SANDF was focusing its efforts on giving support to the families of the dead soldiers and those injured.
Accompanied by several top military officials and Free State provincial authorities on Saturday, Mapisa-Nqakula visited the women at the 3 Military Hospital in Bloemfontein.
One soldier was said to be in a critical condition and undergoing operations at a private hospital in Bloemfontein.
Earlier on Saturday, Mapisa-Nqakula offered condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of the soldiers who died in the horrific bus crash on Friday.
“On behalf of the ministry of defence and military veterans, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the families of SANDF members killed in a bus accident on the R172 in the Free State on Friday 19 August 2016,” Mapisa-Nqakulu said in a statement.
“We are saddened by the loss of lives of and our deepest sympathies go to the families of the members. We wish the injured a speedy recovery,” she said.
Nine women died on the scene when the bus rolled down an embankment on the R712 in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Another two women died in hospital. A number of other SANDF members sustained various injuries in the crash.
RTMC spokesman Simon Zwane said earlier the cause of the crash had not yet been established.
African News Agency