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Source: Ministry of Public Enterprises
Title: Radebe: Bethlehem bus disaster funeral
ADDRESS BY JEFF RADEBE, MP, MINISTER OF PUBLIC ENTERPRISES AND
ACTING MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, AT BETHLEHEM BUS DISASTER FUNERAL,
Kimberley, 11 May 2003
Today is a sad and painful one for the families, friends, comrades
and colleagues of those who have perished in this terrible and
heart-rending tragedy. Mr President, members of the Kimberley
community, we are surrounded by heartfelt grief, and in my capacity
as Acting Minister of Transport I am acutely aware of the
responsibility I and provincial MECs have to ensure a milieu of
road and transport safety exists across our country.
Words alone cannot provide sufficient comfort nor indeed adequately
explain the reasons why such a calamity has come to pass. This
disaster has stunned this small community. It has seared the heart
of the nation. It has shocked and saddened Cosatu and the alliance
generally. May I thus extend condolences through reference to a
number of practical actions that we must explore to reduce the
possibility of such a terrible accident happening in the
Although our country has embarked over the years on a major,
laudable drive to improve road safety generally, and local,
provincial and national transport officials have worked tirelessly
to improve conditions, perhaps we need a more rigorous
consideration of some mundane matters, which probably account for a
number of accidents.
The high priority investigation into the Bethlehem disaster is
nearing completion and we expect a detailed report next week.
However, I believe that it is possible to suggest a few pointers
for immediate action.
We cannot assume that road signage is adequate on all our roads,
especially those smaller roads that criss-cross our countryside and
link our major road networks with the isolated communities of rural
South Africa. The fact that many of these are dirt roads, with road
verges blocked by vegetation, means that frequently road, direction
or danger signs are frequently missing or obscured. Often,
temporary diversion routes extend their lives to become inadequate
roads themselves, without adequate concern for surfacing, drainage
or the impact of wind erosion. In these circumstances, even the
most roadworthy vehicles are tested to the extreme and drivers'
skills stretched beyond normal limits. The National Department of
Transport has already been in contact with the Free State Transport
Department about concerns like these, and I have instructed that an
initiative encompassing all provinces should be implemented
immediately to address this question of road signs within the
context of improving our road infrastructure.
It is also clear that the South African Bureau of Standards must
test thoroughly whether emergency exits in public vehicles,
particularly larger capacity vehicles such as mini-bus taxis and
large busses, are adequate. We cannot allow cost considerations or
design to place life-threatening conditions on our travelling
Mr President, many heroes have emerged from this tragedy, and I
join other speakers in saluting their heroism and recognise their
pain at feeling that they did not do enough to save more people. At
the same time, I must acknowledge the significant contributions
made to the families of the deceased made by a range of people and
institutions, and in particular from within the transport sector
and including Transnet, the National Road Agency, and the Road
Over the past few years, however, we have noted in relation to a
number of other disasters, particularly in the rail sector, that we
can and must do more to coordinate better the activities of key
role-players in the emergency services. A joint task team has
already been convened to examine the problem in the rail sector,
and I believe it would be valuable to extend its brief to cover
other areas as well.
It is my fervent hope that the lingering tragedy that this disaster
represents will help shock South Africans out of their apparent
complacency when it comes to transportation safety. All the
investment in the world to improve infrastructure or the technology
of vehicle and travel safety cannot by itself eliminate tragedies
such as this one. The fact is, that once an accident takes place,
the vehicles are normally moved away quickly, the injured or dead
removed from the scene and the traffic flow soon becomes normal.
The horror of death or serious injury is forgotten as an
inconvenience to others.
Once again, I appeal to all road users to consider speed
restrictions as upper limits and not as targets; to realise that
fatigue creeps up on you and registers its cold hold in ways that
go unnoticed. Drivers must take an enduring interest in the state
of roadworthiness of their vehicle, especially if they are involved
in public transport, checking tyres, brakes and suspension
frequently. They must take note that different road surfaces often
require a change in normal driving habits. Do not drink and drive.
Do not take drugs or smoke dagga in the vain hope that they keep
Commuters and tourists, pedestrians and long-distance drivers have
all seen the mournful monuments of once-white crosses, often
wreathed with weathered flowers, that stand silently alongside many
of our roads and freeways. Too often, freshly painted crosses still
wet with the tears of those left behind, take their place on the
roadsides of our land to challenge us all.
In the Christian tradition, the little town of Bethlehem reflects
birth, joy and hope. Today, Bethlehem mourns. For the families and
friends bereft of their loved ones by this tragic accident, it is
my wish that the love of your community, the strength of your
organisations, and the solidarity of countless millions of our
people shall nurture you in your time of pain and shield you from
In the tradition of the national liberation movement led by the
African National Congress, let us ensure that a long-lasting
monument be erected to these departed comrades, breadwinners,
cadres of the workers' movement, family members and friends. That
monument must at the very least be reflected in the implementation
of practical steps to avoid future accidents of this nature, and at
the same time begin to build a sustainable and deep culture of
respect for others on our roads and thoroughfares.
Issued by Ministry of Public Enterprises
11 May 2003