The definition of child is “a person between birth and full growth.
A child has only briefly stepped into life.
A child has a lifetime of memories yet to make.
What do you say when the lives of 14 children end in a moment of absolute tragedy?
What do you say when grief-stricken families and friends gather at a community hall for counseling?
What do you say when masses of young school children are singing We Shall Overcome in that small community hall as they attempt to deal with the loss of sisters, brothers, friends?
What do you say when an accident rocks a town, a city, a nation?
Perhaps it can best described in the words of our president as “It is tragic beyond words.”
This is what Jacob Zuma expressed in his shock at the horror crash. He sent his condolences to the families of the victims, while surviving children and teachers at Rheedendal Primary School, and the local community. “The loss of such young lives is very painful for all of us. We share the loss and the pain suffered by the families.”
The horror bus accident happened in Knysna in which 14 pupils and their driver, Taan Colin Payle, 65, died when the school bus plunged off a bridge and into a dam. It should have been a day like any other with these children sitting in the bus that used to take them to school every day. However, the bus apparently rolled backwards down a hill and plunged nose first into the rain-swollen Kasatdrift River, about 18km outside Knysna on Wednesday morning.
The children, along with another 44 of their school mates, were crammed into a 32-seater African Express bus that was contracted by the Western Cape Education Department to transport them to Rheenendal Primary School.
Neil Sharrocks, who arrived on the scene about two minutes after the bus went into the water, said: “I immediately jumped into the water. There was no exit window and I pulled one of the small side windows open. I started to yank children out of the window. I just kept grabbing them around the chest and yanking them out of there.”
Young Jorika Kiewiets, 7, whose twin sister Jorina died in the horror bus accident said, “My sister is lying dead in the water. I would also be dead if the man did not grab me by the hand and pull me out the window.” Jorika clung to her sobbing mother, Veronica, outside the community hall. Jorina had been sitting next to her sister on the bus.
Paulina Fiegeland lost all three of her children – Maurisha, 15, Felicity, 10, and Andre, 12 – in the accident. She was too sedated to talk about her sad loss. The Mello family also lost three children – Lugan, 8, Lisa, 9 and Antonio, 6.
The twins’ grandfather, John Kiewiets, also lost his 11-year-old son, Marco, in the tragedy.
“Marco and Jorina apparently called out for help, but they were stuck,” Kiewiets said.
He had to identify the two bodies at the mortuary. “I can’t forget how they looked,” he said.
Chriswin Vryburg lost his twin, Cheswin, 15. Their father, Chris, said his grief was “tearing me apart inside”. Chriswin, who survived the accident, stood silently with him.
Southern Cape police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said the pathologist had already started conducting post-mortems on the children, but the results were not yet known.
A memorial service will be held for those who died in Rheenendal on Monday night.
The list of victims are:
1. Ashwell Davidson, 17
2. Michael Sass, 9
3. Rayleen Wessels, 11
4. Marushaan Meyer, 13
5. Maurisha Fiegeland, 15
6. Felicity Fiegeland, 10
7. Andre Fiegeland, 12
8. Lugan Mello, 8
9. Lisa Mello, 9
10. Antonio Mello, 6
11. Jorina Kiewiets, 7
12. Marco Kiewiets, 11
13. Cheswin Vryburg, 15
14. Octavia Williams, 14
15. Taan Colin Payle, 65
The 24th August 2011 shall be a day the families and friends of the above deceased shall not forget.
A day drenched in a tragedy words cannot describe.
A day etched in searing loss.
Perhaps the greatest comfort we have is in the words of what the children were singing in that small community hall:
We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.