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.

Advertisements

No Xenophobia in Port Elizabeth, Just opportunists

Most of Port Elizabeth no doubt was shocked to hear the news of the Xenophobic attacks that occurred on Saturday. Well I would like to assure those living in PE that nothing of the sort happened. Here is the story that you didn’t read in the news paper.

I received the call at about 10am Saturday morning, it seemed that my colleagues who were called first didn’t want to get out of bed or answer their cellphones. A contact in the SAPS gave me the call and told me get my ass down to Zwide, as there were looters and rioters everywhere. My self and the girl friend quickly threw on something and headed out to the scene of all the action.

According to our source, the whole thing started about 7am that same day. When a local chap got into an argument with Somalian shop owner. The shop owner acted as any rational person does, drawing a 9mm pistol and shooting him between the eyes. He then went back inside his shop, gathered some personal belongings and food. He then walked up to the body of the local chap and shot him twice again. He fled the scene. Now police have been saying that something like this is all it would take for a joburg 2 happening in Port Elizabeth. Over the next couple of hours news spread around zwide of what the shop owner had down and crowds of at first angry people gathered in front of the shop to burn the building down.

Police were already on the scene and only had to call for backup from the ever increasing crowd. As the day wore on the criminal element came to the party. People were racing from one Somali shop to the next, trying to steal what ever they could. 12 people were arrested for looting.

As the first shops were being looted police swarmed into Zwide, at least 150 police officers from all the districts came to the party, a special mention to all the reservists that also came, with out their help I am sure that things would have got out of hand. All armed with shot guns loaded with rubber bullets they camped out side Somali shops protecting them from opportunists.

As one shop was starting to be looted some community members kept the police informed about what was going on. The police radio would crackle with the location of the latest shop being looted, police would pile into their cars and high tail it to where the action was. With us trailing behind them, through the mud and rocky roads of the location. Nothing like driving at high speeds, on mud, with people all around you and gun shots going off in the background.

We arrived at a shop we had been to a couple of hours before. A looter ran from the shop, a police officer chased after him. The officer was able to hit him twice with rubber bullets. The pics below should tell the story. On a personal note, I shot this picture while driving and putting the camera outside the window and letting the shutter fly.

Police also arrested a couple of looters while we were around. A couple that thought it would be great idea to take some maize and a very thin woman.

The police had gotten a call from community members that a woman had stolen some rice, the arrived in force to the scene. Community members pointed out the woman who fled into someones shack. As she was being arrested a man holding a baby chased after the police and handed over what I assume is the womans child. Just take a look at the womans and babies face, it will tell you everything you need to know.

Police guarded Somali owned shops for hours, as the rain came in the crowds became less and less, a help hopefuls hang around in the pouring rain hoping to be the first into the shop when police left the scene.

While the Somali shops were under police guard the owners and families that ran the shops backed up everything that they could into bakkies and fled to a safe house in Durban road, Korstan. Crowds of locals were shouting get out foreigner as they sped under police escort to the safe house.

By about 5pm the action had died down and most of the people were back inside their homes. The PE police ready did a great job with what could have gotten out of hand quickly.

Fire and water, my crazy day.

What a mad, bloody and smoke filled day.

I arrive at work, I have not even logged into my computer when the call comes in that 3 children had been burnt to death in a shack fire. I grab my camera and a note pad and head out. Arriving on the scene I’m welcome with the smell of burnt human. If you’ve never smelt it, count your self lucky, if you have you know that it stays with you the whole day.

The story goes like this.

A mother of three kids, aged 1, 3 and 5 years old, went to the shebeen (community members confirmed this) to go buy some booze at 7:30 in the morning, leaving her kids alone in the house. At some point one of the kids must have knocked over a paraffin lamp over starting a fire. Now being small children they had no clue what to do about the fire or that they must run away from it. The sadest thing for me, is that the 5 year old the only one that could have done anything was disabled and unable to walk. He burnt alive in his bed. The other two children, two girls, were found badly burnt lying on the ground next to each other. What a scene, I’ve gone to shack fires before, but when children are involved its something that is beyond words.

They took bodies away and the community started to pray, which was a mad sight for your average little white boy like me. Then things looked like it was about to get out of hand. People were getting louder and louder. Angry shouts and looks were coming to us as well as the mother. There was talk of them attacking the mother when everyone left. So I left, not wanting to make the news. I left this poor mother with no children left and a husband that not even she knows where to what ever fate the community chooses.

Arriving back at the office i get another call, a man has drowned after falling from a bridge into a river. Racing to the scene my self and a photographer wait around to see if they pull up the body. They were still looking when we left the scene

.

Back at the office, coffee, smoke and check email.

When a fax comes across my desk that the body of a 2 year old boy was found badly burnt inside a plastic packet.

The story was that this boy went missing last Sunday. His father started looking for him the same day, but only called the police on Tuesday for help in the search. The Search and Rescue dog unit was called in to help. After day of looking and finding nothing they gave up for the day. But began the search again today. While searching a farm in the Patensie area their dogs found the body of the boy. Two people had been arrested in connection with the murder a 58 year old male and 54 year old female married couple are to appear in court on Friday.

That was my day, I hope tomorrow is as action packed

Phones never stop ringing at busy 10111 call centre

IT‘S Saturday night and, with a trained operator at my side, I‘m getting to experience first hand what it is to be a 10111 call centre operator. Tonight I‘m the voice at the end of the line that people reach out to in their time of need – and reach out they do.
“Please, please you‘ve got to help me, they‘re beating up my husband, please send someone, please!”
This is the frantic plea I‘m confronted with as I pick up the phone. The woman is screaming down the phone for help. In the background I hear a little girl crying, shouting out: “Why are you doing that to my daddy?”
As I frantically try to capture the information, the realisation hits me: This is not as easy as people think.
The calls flood in all evening, averaging about 230 an hour – a call every 15 seconds. And apparently this is a slow night.
Early in the evening, however, it becomes clear to me that the bulk of the calls are people calling the 10111 centre for their own amusement. One man in particular calls more than 40 times in one hour. He‘s well known to the operators.
After an hour or so I feel I have the call answering thing cracked. Then the clock ticks over to 10pm and suddenly all hell seems to break loose. The call centre becomes a hive of activity. Calls come in from all over town: attempted house robberies, shootings in progress, reports of a hijacking, too many assaults and fights to even begin to write about.
It seems that come the weekend, especially at the end of the month when everyone‘s been paid and can buy drink, the rate at which people cause each other harm skyrockets.
My phone rings. On the line is a man sitting in his car in Park Drive, reporting that someone is shooting in the area. I can hear the shots in the background.
It is my first priority one call (where police need to respond as soon as possible), and feeling a bit out of my league, I hand the phone over to the professionals and listen on the speaker phone.
As the man is talking, the operator pushes a button next to her phone, triggering an alarm in the dispatch area, alerting the dispatchers that something important is happening.
They in turn begin contacting police officers in the field over the radio, ready to direct them as soon as they know more.
Back at my terminal, the operator is punching the information from the caller into the system, then clicks “report” on her computer screen.
The information appears on all the dispatchers‘ screens immediately. Radios crackle to life and orders are given about what is happening and where.
There is little to no feedback from the dispatcher back to the call operator about whether the complaint has been resolved. There simply isn‘t time. By the time you put the phone down, it‘s already ringing again.
Remember this when you get angry and spit venom down the line at the operator. They are there to get your information and pass that on to the dispatchers, who prioritise the incidents and dispatch the vehicles accordingly.
For instance, when a complaint comes in from the Mill Park area, complaining about kids in the street making a noise by setting off firecrackers, followed shortly after by a report of a gang shooting and a report of mob justice, the limited police resources will be sent to deal with the shooting first.
It is amazing to experience first hand how one Mill Park soccer mom in particular completely lost it, demanding that we do something about the fireworks “right now”.
Not having the proper training to deal with this irate woman, I hand the headset over to the operator and turn on the speaker phone. She is rude and abusive.
Not only am I surprised by the pettiness of some of the complaints I field. I am also surprised at the distinct difference in the way people from different income brackets address me. It seems the wealthy have no concept of what speaking in a civilised manner means.
In comparison, a woman from Motherwell calls in to report, in a polite manner, that there is a drunk man covered in blood banging on her door, and that she is one of three women in the house. She gives us the necessary details, then hangs up. She calls back 30 minutes later, asking if we have dispatched a van. Not once does she scream or shout, not once does she call the police useless.
I realise that the operators at 10111 have a high-stress job that brings little reward.
The little girl‘s pleas for help still haunt me, and I was only there for three hours. How much more so are the full-time operators haunted by the calls they have had to answer?
But they also have to field those abusive and prank calls, from kids playing with pay phones to irate callers screaming obscenities down the line.

Danger all night long with a crew from the flying squad

THE car‘s tyres screamed as the driver spun in a 180-degree arc. We were responding to a call that there had just been an armed robbery. Two men had held up a woman at gunpoint and fled with her month‘s wages. I‘m spending time with the Nelson Mandela Bay flying squad in the townships of the city, and with sirens screaming, we head full tilt towards where the two robbers were last seen. We‘re close now, the lights go off and the siren dies away. We don‘t want to advertise our presence.
As we slowly drive down dusty dirt roads, the two police officers look down the alleyways that feed this gravel thoroughfare.
“I think we‘ve got something here,” the officer says over the two-way radio.
We edge our way down the alleyway. The two men haven‘t seen us yet. There is the metallic click of guns being loaded. The two walk on, unaware of our presence.
Then one of them sees us creeping up on them. How you creep in a one- ton car on a dirt road amazes me.
All the same, our creeping has been noticed. The two split up and start running between the shacks. The officer slams the car into gear and races after the closest one. Our car brakes suddenly to prevent us from running the man down.
The two police officers, Colin and Juba, jump from the car, guns at the ready. “Wait here!” one screams at me. Since there are people running around with guns, I stay in the car.
Sitting alone in a marked flying squad car, I glance nervously around. A man behind me stops and looks at the car. It‘s one of the men that we are chasing. “Over here, one of them is over here,” I scream while running towards the police officers. They run past me, sweat pouring from their faces.
We have no time to waste. Another call has come in. A silver Opel Rekord has been hijacked in Central.
From what I‘ve been told it‘s been a slow night. As the radio dies down and the workload suddenly disappears, the two officers I am accompanying cruise the dark streets and alleys looking for cars reported stolen.
We have a list of the 24 cars reported stolen in two days. Every car we pass, we check the number plates.
White Toyota Corolla, Citi Golf, blue Isuzu bakkie . . . that shape, model and colour is on the list. The number plate matches. We‘re in business.
We pull over and notice two men dressed to the nines. Under their arms, two drunk young girls stumble towards the stolen bakkie with them.
Colin jumps from the police car, cocks his R5 rifle and raises it towards the people as they start the car. “Step out of the car and put your hands above your head,” he yells at the men. Juba climbs out of the car, raising his 9mm pistol. “Get out of the car. Ladies, stay where you are,” he shouts.
After the arrests, I amble about, taking photos, talking to witnesses.
It seemed Juba had only called in backup five minutes ago, but out of nowhere, a swarm of policemen, armed with flak jackets, guns, mace and sjamboks climb out of their cars.
We‘re back on the street. Five minutes after Colin and Juba have finished their paperwork, another call comes through. A car has been stolen.
For the second time tonight, the car spins in a 180° arc and we make a beeline for the scene of the crime.
The rest of the night is a blur of screeching tyres and high speed.