POLITICS

'Wrong' bus in Rheenendal accident disaster - WCape govt

Bus contracted to transport pupils on route was meant to be a 67, not 32, seater one

Western Cape Minister Grant reacts to Rheenendal Primary School accident

24 Aug 2011

I am deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic accident involving learners from Rheenendal Primary School this morning.

Thirteen learners are confirmed dead. Police divers are currently at the scene searching for further bodies. The driver of the bus is also confirmed dead.

On behalf of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and the Provincial Government, I would like to extend my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones. They are in all of our thoughts and prayers.

I am currently en route to the scene to show my support and to assist where I can. I am going to be joined by colleague, Minister for Transport and Public Works Robin Carlisle.

According to initial reports the learners drowned after the bus in which they were travelling was swept into a river in the southern Cape this morning.

The bus was carrying learners to Rheenendal Primary School in Rheenendal near Knysna.

Officials of the Eden Karoo Education District of the Western Cape Education Department arrived at the scene immediately on hearing of the accident.

They included a team of school psychologists and social workers who are providing counseling for learners, parents and staff at the scene, as well as, the school and at the Knysna Provincial Hospital.

Ambulances took some of the survivors to the hospital for observation. Buses have been provided to transport parents to the hospital and the school.

The school and district staff are currently compiling a list of the survivors.

An investigation into the causes of the accident is currently underway.

Update on the Rheenendal Bus Tragedy

The WCED has already begun a thorough investigation into the causes of the Rheenendal Bus accident. (Update: 14 learners and the bus driver confirmed dead.)

While we can't speculate on the reasons for the crash at this stage, we can confirm to the media some of the details regarding the WCED's contract with the bus company concerned.

When awarding tenders to bus companies for learner transport, a particular bus is assigned to a particular route. The size of the bus is determined according to the number of learners registered for learner transport on that route.

The WCED has very stringent measures in place to monitor the condition of buses used to carry learners. We have a team of seven monitors who check compliance with tender requirements continually. This includes ensuring that the necessary roadworthy certificates and other relevant documentation are in place.

The WCED's roadworthy requirements are more stringent than those usually required by traffic authorities, in that bus contractors have to obtain roadworthy certificates every six months, rather than every 12 months.

According to our records the vehicle approved for transport on this route is a bus that seats 67 learners. 65 learners are registered on this route in our learner transport scheme.

However, the bus involved in today's accident is a 32 seater bus, which is usually assigned to another bus route.

The WCED will be investigating why a smaller bus was used on this particular day to transport learners, as opposed to the 67 seater bus, in terms of the service level agreement entered into between the WCED and the bus contractor concerned.

There are only limited circumstances where buses can be substituted.

We would also like to make clear that the two buses, the 32 seater and the 67 seater bus, were road-compliant and have been tested regularly on a 6-month basis.

The WCED continues to take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of our learners in the public school system, including those who have to make use of learner transport.

Statements issued by Donald Grant, Minister of Education Western Cape, August 24 2011

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