Johannesburg – As they relaxed on the back seat of the bus, Godfrey Mofokeng and three ANC comrades were getting animated while discussing a plan to recruit more members for the party.
They were suddenly jolted by the bus veering off the road, before it overturned. Moments later, an injured and dazed Mofokeng realised that some of his comrades were trapped under the bus, which had landed on its roof on a patch of grass along the roadside.
This is how Mofokeng, 27, described the accident that claimed the lives of 11 people and left at least 59 ANC volunteers injured.
The bus was ferrying ANC volunteers from Ekurhuleni home from the party’s 2016 local government election manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth.
Also read: Shock as bus crash claims 11 ANC members
It was travelling along the N1 between Winburg and Kroonstad yesterday when it rolled several times. A number of passengers were thrown from the vehicle, while several others were trapped beneath its wreckage. Witnesses called paramedics, who rushed to the scene.
“On arrival, paramedics found a bus lying on its roof a short distance from the main road,” said ER24 spokesman Russel Meiring. “Scores of bodies littered the scene. Paramedics from various services began to triage the patients, setting up a staging area for the treatment.”
Emergency service workers spent hours trying to free passengers from the bus, particularly those trapped inside and beneath the vehicle’s twisted chassis.
It is believed the driver lost control of the bus.
According to the Free State Department of Health, a cursory investigation attended by Free State MEC for Health Benny Malakoane indicated driver fatigue as the suspected cause of the incident, as all of the vehicle’s tyres were still intact.
“The driver is not divulging any info about the cause. However, fatigue is strongly suspected as the bus went off the road… and rolled,” the department’s Facebook page said.
However, unconfirmed reports suggested that drivers were taking turns operating the bus while it was moving.
Late on Sunday, anxious families and relatives of the volunteers gathered at a hall in Katlehong.
Read more: Condolences pour in after ANC bus crash
Mofokeng, from Katlehong, recounted the last moments before the incident. He and three of his comrades were busy hatching a plan to retain the ANC as the majority party in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council ahead of the local government elections when the accident happened.
“We left Port Elizabeth at about 9pm on Saturday. By 7am this (yesterday) morning, we had already passed Bloemfontein. We stopped at a petrol station just after 7am for some refreshments,” Mofokeng said.
According to him, the tragic accident happened a few minutes afterwards, just before 8am.
“We were seated at the back of the bus. We were busy discussing a plan to recruit more members for the ANC upon our arrival in Katlehong. We had flags with us which we got at the manifesto launch. We had all planned we would not go home first but would conduct a door- to-door campaign with the hope of winning more votes.
“As we were busy talking, our bus suddenly veered off the road. It fell on its side and then rolled for the first time, then a second and a third time,” Mofokeng said.
He was speaking from his hospital bed at Virginia Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries.
During the telephonic interview, Mofokeng said that one of his best friends and comrades had died. They met through the ANC and had been friends for three years.
ANC councillor Nkosinathi Tshabalala was reportedly among the survivors.
According to Mofokeng, Tshabalala assisted him in retrieving some of his belongings at the accident scene.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation has sent accident reconstruction experts to the scene to conduct an in-depth investigation with other law enforcement agencies to determine the cause of the crash.
“The injured have been transported to various hospitals in Winburg, Kroonstad, Virginia and Welkom,” said RTMC spokesman Simon Zwane.
Condolences have poured in for the victims of the tragic bus crash.
In a statement, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters extended condolences to the families, friends, and the “entire African National Congress family, in particular the ANC Ekurhuleni region, Grace Flathela zone, for the loss of volunteers” involved in a the bus accident. She wished those admitted to hospital a speedy recovery.
Peters thanked Free State police, roads, and transport MEC Butana Komphela, the Road Traffic Management Corporation, and emergency services for their swift response in assisting the injured.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) was among the first organisations to send out a statement regarding the incident.
“The RTMC sends its condolences to families of the deceased. Sympathies are also extended to those who have been injured and to the ANC as a whole, especially the Gauteng province and Ekurhuleni regional leadership,” said spokesman Simon Zwane.
Shortly after reports of the crash, the ANC said through social media it was saddened by the accident that had claimed so many lives. “Our thoughts are with the injured and bereaved at this time,” the organisation said on Twitter.
The Executive Mayor of Ekurhuleni mayor Mondli Gungubele expressed shock at the accident.
“There is no way to describe how I feel right now. These comrades were with us yesterday as we launched our manifesto and today they are no more. May their souls rest in peace,” he said.
Gungubele passed his condolences to the families of the deceased and wished the survivors a speedy recovery.
“The loss of one life is a disaster enough. This is a devastation,” he added.
The ANC Women’s League also sent its sympathies. “This is a sad day for all the structures of the ANC and the community of Ekurhuleni. Our heartfelt condolences go out to families of the deceased and those injured,” said secretary-general Meokgo Matuba.
The EFF also extended its condolences to both the victims and the ruling party. “We pray with the families of all those who are injured and wish them a speedy recovery,” said spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
“The EFF also sends condolences to the ANC, in particular the branch of Ward 60 in Ekurhuleni region. May the souls of all who died rest in perfect peace,” he added.
DA national spokesman Refiloe Nt’sekhe extended the DA’s heartfelt condolences to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who died in the crash.
“We would also like to extend our prayers to those injured and wish them a speedy recovery, as well as to the ANC during this difficult time. We encourage the SA Police Service to investigate the matter speedily in order to ensure closure for the families of those who lost their lives,” Nt’sekhe said.