What was to have been a celebration of women in Free State province turned to tragedy for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) when a bus crash claimed the lives of 11 serving women.
The bus carrying 42 SANDF personnel was en route to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in eastern Free State for a women’s month event at the park’s Basotho Cultural Village when it apparently rolled down an embankment on the R712 on Friday.
All the passengers were based at the SANDF Mobilisation Centre at De Brug outside Bloemfontein.
According to Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga, nine members were declared dead at the crash site. Another member injured in the crash died en route to a nearby hospital, probably in Bethlehem, and a third was declared dead on arrival at hospital.
Mabanga said SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) emergency medical services practitioners were rushed to the accident site to assist provincial emergency medical services (EMS) with provision of immediate medical aid.
“The cause of the crash is not known and will form part of an investigation,” he said.
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; the Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube; the Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke and the Chief of the SA Army, Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, have all expressed heartfelt condolences to the families, loved ones and friends of those who died and wish the injured members a speedy and full recovery from their injuries.
President Jacob Zuma, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, said "The nation is saddened by this horrific loss of so many members of our Defence Force, who lost their lives on duty. They had dedicated their lives to the defence of our country and its people. It is really tragic for them to lose their lives in this manner. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this difficult and painful time. We wish the injured a speedy recovery."
Those killed in the crash are Reserve Force Chaplain Phumza Teledimo (37), Lesego Rasethuntsha (25), Corporal Akhona Mshoni (30), Lance Corporal Sharon Macala (27), Maria Jacobs (57), Alice Masilo (27), Lance Corporal Cheena Jonkers (30), Sergeant Matseko Madimade (26), Lance Corporal Maditsietsi Morotolo (26), Portia Ramabodu (26) and Private Maserame Molibeli (25).
A memorial service is planned for Wednesday with the venue and time still to be announced.
The airborne arm of the SANDF, the SA Air Force (SAAF), also lost 11 people in December 2012 when a 35 Squadron C-47TP aircraft crashed in the Drakensberg. As far as can be ascertained these are the two worst accidents in the democratic SANDF since it was established.