May 2, 2003

Bus disaster casts pall over Workers' Day

South Africans marked Workers' Day May 1 with the traditional calls for better wages and working conditions, but celebrations were marred by the deaths of at least 63 people on their way to a rally. It was one of South Africa's worst bus disasters.

The bus was taking Congress of SA Trade Unions members from Northern Cape to a rally in Qwa Qwa, near Bethlehem, central Free State, when the driver is said to have turned by mistake into a gravel road leading to a reservoir at Saulspoort dam outside Bethlehem . Trade union officials and politicians stared in disbelief as the bus was hauled from the water, hours after the predawn accident, and revealed a grisly sight the bodies of passengers who drowned while trapped in the vehicle. Women turned their heads away and wept as police divers brought up yet more victims. One by one they were pulled from the water and laid out on the shore where they were covered in white plastic sheets.

At least 52 bodies were recovered, said Supt Selby Bokaba of the police. President Thabo Mbeki, attending a rally in Johannesburg, observed a minute's silence and paid tribute to the victims. Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said: "As an individual I pray for them. As a nation we share our sympathy and sadness in this trying time." (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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