The Cedarville Bus Accident – Late report.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but for some reason or another I never got around to doing part two of the Cedarville Adventure. Lets see if I am able to remember everything that happened that day.

So we have left Port Elizabeth and are now in East London. The plan is to drive in one day to the site of the terrible bus accident, talk to locals, family members and if we are really lucky some of the people that made it out the accident alive.

Leaving at about 5am in the morning its a straight flat out burn towards Cedarville. Six hours of Eastern Cape mountains, taxi’s, trucks and every now and again a small one horse town swarming in people.

After 6 hours of driving we arrive in Cedarville, having driven through all of the Eastern Cape and into Kwazulu Natal, we are greeted with the site of the afternoon sun shining onto the mountains of Lesotho.

We’re told by Cedarville police that we need to take a dirt road up the mountain to find the location of the bus crash site. Luckily we are the work’s 4×4 and the dirt roads are no match for the gas guzzling behemoth that we’re driving. The roads are terrible, how a bus was able to drive these roads for all these years and not crash is hard to figure out. After a while we start seeing remains of what used to be cars at the bottom of many of the hills. Seems like many people have driven over the edge and met a demise of twisted metal and unforgiving rocks. After slipping and sliding all over the road and for letter words are replaced by grunts and sweat we reach the site of the crash.

From the road you’re unable to see anything. If it wasn’t for the police and accident investigators one would have no idea the terrible horror that unfolded here just a couple of days ago. A group of sweating and panting police officers coming up the hill. I ask them if the bus is down there, they reply that I just need to follow the tyre tracks in the grass. I take my camera out and start heading downwards towards were the police say the remains of the bus lies.

CLOSE UP OF THE BUS

THE REMAINS OF THE BUS

INSIDE THE BUS

What I saw sent shivers up my spine. The mangled remains of the bus lay at the bottom of the mountain. Lying upside down in a small river. The front of the bus was totaled, all around it told the tale of what happened that day to a group of villages going to town to buy some goods for the family. Rubber gloves, shoes, bloody clothes, the plastic wrappers that most medical supplies come in lay like around forming a  nightmare halo around the bus. Only the sound of the wind can be heard, I’m sure its been like that for centuries. Standing on top of a rock, looking down at the carnage. As I start heading further down I notice that there is a massive chuck torn out of the mountain. It seemed that the bus ramped off the rock I was standing on and slammed back to earth about 10 metres from the rock. Tearing its self and its passengers apart. I manage to get down the crash site, piece of twisted metal lay everywhere, in trees, the river, the metal bearing witness to the horror those people went through that day. I manage to snap a couple of shots before heading back towards to the road. By now my girlfriend is freaking out, I didn’t tell her where I went and thought that I had slipped down the mountain. Getting back to the road, bakkies fill of local villagers arrive, they have come to pray over the crash site. Some start to walk down the hill towards the bus, while those who are to old or weak stay up by the road, sitting in the grass crying and a shaking their heads is disbelief.

CRYING GOGO

Again I take a couple of pictures and jump into the work bakkie. Continuing down the gravel road towards the village where the occupants of the bus once lived. These people lived in the middle of nowhere, its off the beaten track and them some. We drive around and talking to locals, who point us in the direction of some of the family members of the bus accident. Not knowing where the hell we are going we pick up a local man, paying him R20 and a number of cigarettes to show us around the village.

Arriving at a small modest home, we’re greeted questioning looks. However when we explain to them why we are here we are welcomed into their homes. A group of elders is gathered inside the home. Talking about the lose of their loved one. We soon learn, that the people in the house aren’t close family, they are neighbors and friends. Mel asks the family and friends a couple of questions. Shaking her head she stands up and walks over to me. “These kids outside here are the children of one of the victims killed in the bus accident. Their father lives in Johannesburg and has not been to the village in a couple of mouths.”

Two young children aged 3 and 5 are playing with a make shift ball outside, while two elder brothers are talking to our guide. They’re all alone now. No mother, no father to care for them from now one. Its a tragic scene. These poor children didn’t have a good chance to begin with, now their future is forever bleak. I can tell the two older brothers know this. Their talking under their breaths in Xhosa and Zulu, having a very basic understanding of the two languages I manage to pick up that they are not happy we are here. They say something about how everything has been given to us and they have nothing. Seeing that the situation could turn ugly, I walk over to them and ask them if they are in school and what they are planning on studying one day. Dead eyes look back at me, they don’t answer continuing with their conversation. The oldest brother came up to me while I was having a smoke and taking some pictures of a chicken that he has good grades in high school, but he would never be able to afford to go to university one day. I can’t help him, I’m just here to show the world what remained after the dust had cleared. I can’t save this one boy, if i could I would have. But knowing its impossible I tell him I will post some information on getting into varsity with a grant.

Interview over, and running out of time, we are forced to head back to Cedarville. Along the way, we see a group of woman on the side of the road. Seeing as we have the space, and know that its a good chance to get some information out of the locals, we stop and give them a lift. To our luck we have picked up the villages teachers. Who know everyone in the village. They’re able to supply us with all the names of those killed and where the families of the deceased are now. We manage to talk them into helping us talk to the families of those killed. Who we learnt the day before was in Cedarville identifying the bodies.

We get into town, and with the help of our teachers we find the funeral home where the identifying of the bodies is taking place. We hang around outside the funeral home, waiting like vultures for the grieving families to come out so that we can talk to them. As them come out, with the help of the teachers, translating our questions, We are able to get the painful tale of these families.

An old woman we talk to tells, us that she lost her daughter and 4 month old grand-daughter in the bus accident. She breaks into tears as she tells us of the lives that she loved that are now gone forever. Through the tears she explains that the bodies were torn to pieces, her daughters face had been peeled from her skull. How a mother is able to see something like this and still be able to stand and talk is something that I will forever question.

A MOTHERS PAIN OF A FUTURE WITHOUT HER DAUGHTER OR GRAND-DAUGHTER

A elderly man and his daughters comes out, they to had just identified the body of mother and wife. The daughter tells us that she was no allowed to see her mothers face, as she didn’t have one anymore. She said something that will forever stay with me. “We had to identify her by her feet, a child always knows her mothers feet”. The father, who stood their confused at all the questions and camera flashes, leans over and asks his daughter, “where is your mother when is she coming home?”. This poor old man, who had been married for more than 50 years, was now alone. The daughter told us how he still talks to her and asks where she is, unable to accept that she is dead.

A young boy, is standing outside the funeral home. He wears a face of a man that has lived many years. We walk over to him and ask him if his loved ones were in the accident. He tells us that his mother was killed in the accident, his father had long since abandoned the family. Now at the age of 16 this young boy was going to have to look after his two brothers and one sister. His future is to forever changed.

The teachers tell us that at the local hospital there are some survivors. So we head towards the hospital. Unable to get inside the hospital, one of the teachers heads over the the security guards and manages to talk them into allowing us inside to ask a couple of questions.

The survivors tell a horrific tale. As the bus lost control, people started screaming and panicking. When the bus finally came to a rest, they say that at first there was silence. Then the screams and shouts for help began. One of the survivors managed to pull him self out the bus. He said that inside and outside the bus, lay bodies and limbs. With a broken leg, he managed to climb up the massive hill and stop a passing car to raise the alarm of the terrible accident that had just taken place.

We had spent the better half of the day getting to the story and hours getting the story. Now we had to head 6 hours back to East London to our Bed and Breakfast. 12 hours of driving in one day is pain unlike any other. Getting back to the B&B at about 11pm we collapse into bed, Mel writes up the story and emails it to the office and i start editing some pictures and emailing them as well. By the time we get into bed and fall fast asleep its 2am in the morning as we have to drive back to Port Elizabeth that same day.

On another note, the MEC for transport, told me that the roads these people drive on are safe and there is nothing wrong with them. Having just spent hours driving on them I tell him that he is talking kak and that only a mad man would say something like that. He then went no to tell me that I dont know what I am talking about and hangs up. What a great guy.

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