“What happened at my school only happens in stories. One doesn’t see this in real life. That was, until now. Scenes keep replaying themselves in my mind. Gruesome scenes. Scenes of blood and terror.” This is how Christiaan Pistorius (16), a Hoërskool Driehoek learner, describes his experiences in this school tragedy that is still moving South Africans deeply.
Today, trauma counsellors could be seen everywhere on the school grounds, supporting staff and pupils. Pupils and their parents stood in groups on a lawn to talk about Friday’s tragedy. In the school’s reception area blankets are covering the windows overlooking the scene.
Christiaan is one of twins and he and brother Christopher, were just a few meters from where the accident happened that claimed the lives of four of their fellow pupils. Soon after assembly, a walkway near the school hall suddenly collapsed, trapping children under a concrete slab. Roydon Olckers, Jandré Steyn, Marli Currie and Marnus Nagel lost their lives in the walkway collapse.
Five pupils were critically injured and three were airlifted by helicopter to nearby hospitals for emergency medical treatment. More than 20 pupils were injured in the tragedy.
“We were in the hall where we were building school spirit. Leaving the hall, my brother and I were in the passage under the walkway when we heard a huge bang. We saw how this thing collapsed and we saw children trapped under the concrete. For a moment I froze, but then us boys ran to the block and tried to lift it. But it was far too heavy,” an emotional Christiaan said.
According to Christiaan, he and another group of boys ran to the teachers’ cars to fetch jacks. “It was so horrible because our friend was trapped in there. I could see he was in terrible pain. I didn’t know all of the kids who were trapped or lying around injured, but three of them were my friends,” Christiaan said while a tear was running down his cheek. “Now one of our friends is no longer with us. It’s so bad.”
Their mother Lizel says she still shudders when “what if thoughts” enter her mind. “You can never ever be prepared for that phone call from your child, crying that there was an accident at school and that children have died in it. It shatters one. It does make you grateful once again for every day you can spend with your children and your loved ones,” she said.
Lucille Olivier, another parent at the school, says she is absolutely sickened by remarks on social media welcoming the death of the four children. “It is horrible for us as a community to have had to witness such things, but it is twice as bad for those kids, white and black, who were eyewitnesses of this tragedy. It is incredibly unfair. The pupils, our children witnessed and experienced things at their school no one is meant to ever see,” Lucille said.
According to Lee Coetzee, a father whose children were friends with some of the deceased children, this accident is a tragedy which has shaken the entire Vaal community. “Look at the scenes here outside the school. There are messages and flowers from opposing schools, from people who travelled far to pay tribute, there are children of different colour and backgrounds who are standing outside the school, crying. This tragedy is for all of us, regardless of race or background, a bitter pill to swallow,” a weeping Lee said.
Many of the injured children’s parents are members of Solidarity, and the child of one of our representatives is still in a serious condition in hospital. Solidarity’s structures in the Vaal Triangle are reaching out to the victims and their families in various ways.
Solidarity mourns with the community. We are not going to let the remarks the BLF’s Lindsay Maasdorp made on Facebook go unchallenged. “We are planning legal action that will include laying a charge of crimen injuria and taking a case to the Equality Court. Based on this precedent, we believe a prison sentence is the appropriate penalty for Maasdorp. We also plan to bring a case before the Equality Court. Maasdorp committed a criminal offence and we believe it deserves harsh punishment,” Dr Dirk Hermann, Solidarity Chief Executive said.
Jandré Steyn – at the River of Life Church in Vanderbijlpark on Thursday 7 February at 11:00
Marli Currie – at the NG Suid Church in Vanderbijlpark on Friday 8 February at 11:00.
Roydon Olckers – at the Third Cross Congregation in Vanderbijlpark on Friday, 8 February
Funeral arrangements for Marnus Nagel are not known yet.