Train hits truck in South Africa, killing 24 workers
AT LEAST 24 farmworkers in South Africa were killed yesterday morning when the truck in whcih they were travelling was hit by a train as it crossed a railway level-crossing in Mpmumalanga province.
Police were last night considering whether to lay a charge of homicide against the truck driver, who survived the accident that occurred just off the N4 highway between Malelane and Hectorspruit in the eastern province.
The driver, who has not yet been named, was said to be taking 50 people to work as fruit-pickers on local farms when the incident occurred at 7am. Initially officials at the scene put the death toll as high as 30. But later in the day they revised the number down to 20, and then up to 24, saying it was hard to determine how many people had died due to the dismemberment of a number of bodies.
The driver and 26 of his passengers were taken to a local hospital by ambulance and helicopter. Many of those injured were in a critical condition, according to private ambulance company Netcare 911, which responded to the incident.
Speaking from the accident scene, provincial community safety department spokesperson Joseph Mabuza said the exact number of fatalities would only be confirmed when the forensic team concluded its investigation.
Police spokesman Joseph Mabusa said the truck was carried 200m down the track by the impact of the train, leaving body parts in its wake. By the time the train stopped, the truck had nearly been cut in half. “It is a very gruesome scene. Some bodies are without heads and some without limbs. Forensic teams are still working on the scene. It’s difficult to say what happened but at this stage it seems that the truck miscalculated as it was crossing the railway line,” he said.
South Africa’s state rail operator Transnet said the train was carrying coal to the Indian Ocean port of Maputo in Mozambique for export. Patrick Craven, the spokesman for union federation Cosatu, said the accident was an example of poor labour practices.
“This terrible tragedy exposes once again the scandal of workers bring transported in open trucks. In a country where drivers and passengers of cars are legally obliged to wear seat belts, how can we tolerate workers being transported with absolutely no protection in the event of an accident?” he asked.
Yesterday’s accident was another grim reminder of South Africa’s appalling road safety record. According to the country’s Road Traffic Management Corporation, the latest statistics show that between 35 and 40 people die daily on South Africa’s roads – more than 14,500 people each year – with driver negligence a major contributing factor.
In March, the government said it was going to start charging with murder drivers who cause loss of life if they knowingly break the rules.
The same month Western Cape taxi driver Jacob Humphreys was sentenced to 20 years in jail for causing the deaths of 10 children he was taking to school. He overtook a row of stopped cars at a level-crossing and was hit by a train.