Soldiers build bridge after flash flood kills six children in Matatiele
The army has been ordered in after six Matatiele children were swept to their deaths in a flash flood on Wednesday.
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the Engineer Corps would urgently construct a bridge over the Mgxojeni river in the village of Pontseng, which claimed the lives of children between the ages of 5 and 7 as they were walking home from school.
Witnesses said the victims were among 17 children who were caught halfway across the river when floodwaters suddenly arrived. All of them were swept away but villagers rescued 11.
Mapisa-Nqakula said on Saturday that an assessment team had already been sent to Matatiele.
"The decision was taken following a number of requests to the minister of defence and military veterans for assistance by the affected communities.
"Subsequently, the South African Army’s Engineer Corps has put together a team that will make a determination as to what should be done in aid of the people ... over and above the bridge to be constructed.
"This team of engineers has been building bridges in the rural Eastern Cape for a while now, therefore share a special bond with the northern part of the Eastern Cape."
The children who lost their lives were in grade R and grade 2 at Popopo Primary in Popopo village, and were on their way home to Freystata.
Popopo Primary principal Karabo Hantsi fought back tears as he spoke to the Daily Dispatch at the river. "I am devastated to lose six children at once. This is such a disaster. The entire school community is in shock and in mourning."
He said when the pupils were released from school at 2pm there was no sign of rain. "About 20 minutes later a heavy storm came from nowhere and took everybody by surprise.
"I was worried with the children going home to Freystata and I was devastated to hear some have been drowned."
There is no school in Freystata and children have to cross three streams during their 5km walk to Popopo Primary.
Parents and community leaders said they had made many requests for bridges, not only with Matatiele's local authority, Elundini municipality, but with the overseeing district municipality, Alfred Nzo.