Driehoek: How, with whatever they could grab, hero dads saved trapped kids

Local journalist tells the heroic story of a community who pulled together as an unspeakable tragedy unfolded

08 February 2019 - 12:29 By Staff reporter
Parents use a car jack to lift the concrete slab that trapped schoolchildren at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark last Friday.
PULLING TOGETHER Parents use a car jack to lift the concrete slab that trapped schoolchildren at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark last Friday.
Image: Jannie du Plessis /Vaalweekblad

The heroes of Hoërskool Driehoek.

That is the story Jannie du Plessis, journalist for the Vaalweekblad newspaper in Vanderbijlpark, wants to tell after last Friday’s tragedy.

He was the first reporter on the scene of a devastating walkway collapse that killed four children and injured 20.

Du Plessis took video footage of parents, residents and paramedics frantically trying to rescue children still trapped under the rubble.

“I wanted to convey to the public the message of a community coming together. It was just amazing how quickly people started working together. The walkway collapsed just after assembly in the school hall and by 8.40am all those trapped were out,” he told Times Select.

“First the matric schoolboys tried to lift the slab of concrete themselves, but by then parents, community members and emergency teams had started arriving at the school. Someone shouted: ‘We need car jacks!’ Others went and broke off a netball pole from the playing field, a truck arrived with scaffolding props. People were walking around with Checkers trolleys full of water bottles. Someone even brought a crane, but they couldn’t get close to the scene.

Vaalweekblad journalist Jannie du Plessis.
Vaalweekblad journalist Jannie du Plessis.
Image: Supplied

“People now look at the video and say, why didn’t they work faster? But they must understand, everyone was in shock and everyone was doing their best with what they had.

“Think about it, the school has 1,060 pupils. Managing the situation was not easy.

“One of the schoolgirls was walking ahead of a group of children when the walkway collapsed. She kept a cool head and immediately made sure, with the help of Grade 12 leaders, that the group behind her turned around before anyone could get hurt. There are many such stories.”

For Du Plessis, who matriculated in a neighbouring school, many of the faces of the parents were familiar.

“As you move between the people, you see faces you know. You hear parents screaming their children’s names and you wonder if their children are okay.

“As a crime reporter, I am accustomed to crime and accident scenes. But this scene really shocked me, but it also showed me the good in people.”

The report that appeared in the community newspaper Vaalweekblad in Vanderbijlpark.
The report that appeared in the community newspaper Vaalweekblad in Vanderbijlpark.
Image: Vaalweekblad
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