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EASTER TRAGEDY About the Botswana bus that fell off a bridge killing 45 ZCC pilgrims

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The Botswana bus which was involved in the horrendous accident that killed 45 pilgrims on Thursday in South Africa belongs to a bus and tour operator company called Trek City Tours. The bus, a Mercedes-Benz Atego, was a 45-seater bus which the company only added to their fleet only three months ago.

On January 19 this year,  a number of Batswana congratulated the company when it first announced the purchase of the bus. However, the bus must have been bought from from another local operator as its registration numbers, B826AMT, show it is an old bus registered in Botswana more than ten years ago. The bus was their latest addition to a fleet of other buses that have been serving the nation on both local and international trips. Pula24 can has established that the bus company is owned by businessman Fred Oahlotswe of Molepolole.

Incidentally, the bus was carrying ZCC church worshippers from Molepolole, on their way to Moria on an annual pilgrim. All the 45 people died after the bus plunged about  50 metres off a bridge into a rocky river between Mokopane and Marken in Limpopo Province.

An eight-year-old girl, the only survivor, sustained serious injuries but is reported to be in a stable condition.The bus crashed through a barrier and caught fire when it hit the ground in the north-eastern Limpopo province. Thirty-four body bags were taken from the scene but only nine bodies are identifiable, authorities say.

According to reports, the vehicle lost control and went off a bridge on the Mmamatlakala mountain pass between Mokopane and Marken, around 300km (190 miles) north of Johannesburg, according to South African public broadcaster SABC.

Department of Transport spokesperson Colin Msibi told the BBC’s Newsday programme that the girl who survived is currently “in hospital, I’m told in stable condition”.

“What we suspect is that when the bus hit the barrier of the bridge, the child was ejected out of the bus, and that is how the child was able to survive,” Mr Msibi said.

Rescue operations went on late into Thursday evening and continued the next morning.

Limpopo health official Phophi Ramathuba told South African broadcaster eNCA that body parts from separate crash victims may have fused together in the fire, which is why so far only nine bodies have been identified.

Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, who went to the scene of the incident, extended her “heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the tragic bus crash.”

She said the South African government would help repatriate the bodies and hold a full inquiry into the cause of the crash.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time,” she added. “We continue to urge responsible driving at all times with heightened alertness as more people are on our roads this Easter weekend.”

Ms Chikunga told eNCA the road the bus fell from is “winding with sharp bends, hairpin bends, a road that I’d never advise any person who is driving a heavy vehicle such as a bus, such as a truck, to use.”

President  Mokgweetsi  Masisi offered his “deepest condolences” to the pilgrims’ relatives, as well as the church they belonged to, following the “heartbreaking” crash.

RULING PARTY MESSAGE: President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his BDP party have sent a message of condolences to affected families

The statement from the Botswana Democratic Party reads: “The President of the Botswana Democratic Party, His Excellency President Dr. Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, along with the Central Committee Leadership, and all members, offer their deepest condolences to the ZCC members and their families affected by the heartbreaking bus accident on Thursday, March 28, 2024, near Mamatlakala, Limpopo; as they journeyed to Moria for Easter. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy. May their souls rest in eternal peace. Gomotsegang, re beye tsotlhe go Ramasedi.”

Member of Parliament for Molepolole and also minister in the office of the President Kabo Morwaeng also sent his condolences to the affected: “The reported loss of 45 lives  of traveling worshippers in a bus accident that occurred in Limpopo (RSA) is tragic. During a deeply sad and low period like this one, we look to God for solace and in search of comfort. I join those who grieve the lost lives of our beloved countrymen who were on a noble trip. I pray for their souls and commit their loved ones to God who is abundantly able to wipe away all our tears. My family and I, together with the people of my constituency, wish to express our deepest and heartfelt condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Bagaetsho, while we await confirmations of names and notifications to the bereaved families, please let us respect our established boundaries and cultural norms for a period like this one. Let us not call out names before the families are properly notified, after which they will make formal announcements. May all the souls who have departed rest in eternal peace,” reads Morwaeng’s statement.

CONSTITUENCY MP: Molepolole MP Kabo Morwaeng is saddened by the accident

The office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also put out a statement on Thursday evening, saying the leader expressed sympathy for Botswana and the victims’ loved ones. In an Easter message released before the crash, Mr Ramaphosa had already  urged citizens to “do our best to make this a safe Easter.” It should “not be a time where we sit back and wait to see statistics on tragedy or injuries on our roads,” Ramaphosa had said.

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