01 MAY 2003, Disaster for Kimberley families as 51 union workers, 41 from the Sol Plaatje municipality, drown in a terrible bus accident at Bethlehem, Free State.
DID YOU KNOW
The bus crash that killed 51 passengers when it drove into the Saulspoort dam in Bethlehem on 1 May 2003 is the worst bus accident in South Africa’s history. It is Kimberley’s second-worst single tragedy after the De Beers Mine fire in July 1888 that killed 202 miners.
61 trade union delegates, mostly from Kimberley, were travelling on the bus to attend May Day celebrations in the Free State town of Qwa Qwa when the accident happened.
The bus driver became disorientated while driving through Bethlehem in the dark, and hopelessly lost, turned accidentally on to a gravel road with no street lights. This gravel road led straight to the dam via a jetty and the bus, travelling much too fast, could not stop and the bus drove on to the jetty and into the water.
The bus sank rapidly and only ten passengers, all injured, managed to escape with the assistance of several local residents. The police arrived later in the day but were only able to recover the bodies and retrieve the bus.
The cause of the crash was believed to be negligence on the driver’s part in his failure to prepare a route through a hazardous area, which was compounded by a lack of signs and gates on the dam’s access roads. The bus too was an old model, and did not possess efficient emergency exits or safety equipment, as well as suffering from poor brakes, all of which may have contributed to the disaster.
May they all RIP.
The dam was renamed the Sol Plaatje Dam on 1 May 2005.
Bethlehem resident Leonard Slabbert, who used a boat to rescue the survivors, was awarded the Mendi Decoration for Bravery (since renamed Order of Mendi for Bravery) (Silver) on 30 November 2003.