Cries of dying kids haunt cop at Bronkhorstspruit crash
The screams of dying children trapped in a flaming minibus taxi will haunt Sergeant David Mbonani forever.
The policeman was one of the first on the scene when the taxi collided with a truck near Bronkhorstspruit on Friday afternoon.
Two adults and 18 children died in the horror smash.
Among the dead were a father and his two children, as well as three siblings. The children were on their way home from school.
"The screams went on for about five minutes and then there was dead silence," said Mbonani, who with fellow officer, Constable Joseph Lefoka, managed to pulled two children from the wreck before the flames forced them back.
"The screams coming out of that burning taxi were traumatic. I have attended to car accidents but I have never in my career witnessed such a scene."
Mbonani, who is a father of three children, is a detective attached to the Verena police station, northeast of Pretoria. He said that for the first time in his 13-year career he would seek trauma counselling.
He said he had been driving to work with a colleague when he saw the collision on the R25 close to the rural village of Wolvenkop, where most of the children lived.
The policemen were driving behind two minibus taxis that were ferrying pupils home from school.
"On impact one child was thrown out of the taxi. I stopped and pulled one child from the taxi. My colleague pulled one out and some others were able to also get out [on their own].
"But the flames got worse. All we could do was watch helplessly, those kids burning and screaming," he said.
Mbonani said he had to block the sight of the fire with his service vehicle so that the surviving children could not see the burning taxi.
The two policemen tried to use their fire extinguishers on the blaze, but these were too weak to put it out.
The pupils were aged between seven and 15 and attended Refano Primary School and Mahlenga Secondary in Sokhulumi village. Those who died were burnt beyond recognition.
Witnesses said the first minibus taxi turned off the R25 into Wolvenkop, but the driver "might have" misjudged the speed and distance of the oncoming truck, which crashed into the minibus as it was turning across the R25.
Christo van Heerden, who arrived soon after emergency services, told the Sunday Times the stretch of the R25 between Sokhulumi and Verena in Mpumalanga was "a death trap".
"What a horrible, horrible day. The kids were little bundles of burned human beings, just stacked next to each other.
"That was very bad. But this road is a death trap. Monthly there are many deaths on this road between Verena and Sokhulumi. I have seen families annihilated." He said the road needed to be upgraded.
Mpumalanga community safety director-general Samuel Lefifi confirmed that one family had lost three children while another lost two children and their father.
The other adult who died was the taxi driver-owner, Amos Mnguni, 75.
Early yesterday morning his daughter Martha, her daughter Patience and granddaughter Tebogo were at the scene of the crash.
Martha, 58, said it was heartbreaking that her father, who was the sole bread-winner, had to die in a horrific manner.
"We are still shocked; we really do not know what to say. One of my kids was in the second taxi," Martha said.
At a meeting yesterday, Mpumalanga health official Girly Thwala pleaded with families not to view their children's bodies until pathologists had completed the postmortems.
"Parents will not be allowed to do any viewing because they will not recognise their children. They were burnt beyond recognition," she said.
Verena police station commander Captain Lesiba Mulala said a case of culpable homicide had been opened.