BY RICHARD MUPONDE
A MBERENGWA woman who survived the Brooklyn bus inferno, which claimed over 30 lives over six months ago, is bitter after the bus operator dumped her following the tragedy which left her disabled.
Simangaliso Ndlovu (40) says she miraculously survived the inferno, which killed 33 other passengers who were burnt to ashes. The fire victims had to be identified through DNA tests. The South Africa, bound bus caught fire just after West Nicholson in Gwanda district in November last year.
She is part of 27 others who were left nursing various injuries. She broke both her hands which effectively stopped her from going about her cross-border business.
Ndlovu claims the bus operator has not helped her with hospital bills and is not answering her calls. She is now surviving from selling sweets from a small market stall set at the front of her home in the Vanguard area of Mberengwa.
Her hopes have been shattered as two children who are supposed to be doing A’ Level could not proceed with school.
Ndlovu is now a pale shadow of her former self and the expression of despair and bitterness speaks of her bitter story. She is also angry over what she says is a litany of lies by the bus management, who told the world that they were helping victims when they had abandoned them.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ndlovu relived the horrific incident and how she was left disabled and dumped by Brooklyn management.
“I left Mberengwa for Zvishavane to board the Brooklyn bus to Musina to get orders as it was the way we lived with my husband. The bus left Zvishavane at 8pm and picked up some passengers at Skuta in Filabusi and Gwanda Town. It was overloaded and had standing passengers,” said Ndlovu.
She said contrary to assertions that a gas tank exploded leading to the inferno, the fire started from under the driver’s seat.
“The fire started from under the driver’s seat close to the first passenger’s seat behind him. It was emitting choking black smoke. There wasn’t a tank which exploded. I was awake. That was purely an electrical fault emanating from faulty electrical wires. Those who say a tank exploded are lying and they could be selling the management’s lies to evade accountability for the bus’s unroadworthiness,” she said.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele seemed to agree with Ndlovu’s assertions when he wrote in his accident inquiry report that the cause of the fire was an electrical fault.
“Final results of the investigations by our traffic section revealed that the fire was as a result of an electrical fault,” said Ndebele.
Ndlovu said so many people were burnt to ashes because the bus was overloaded and the driver delayed stopping when the fire broke out.
“He travelled for over 200 metres after the fire broke out. The reason why a lot of people couldn’t manage to escape was that it was dark and the bus was overloaded and also that the fire started from the exit door. That created a stampede leading to the death of many people. Had the driver stopped early and people evacuated, a lot of lives were going to be saved,” said Ndlovu.
She said after the bus stopped, she found herself lying on the ground in the bush wrapped in a cloth. She could hear distress cries from burning people and a woman by her side crying for her husband who was burning inside the bus.
Ndlovu said it was a horrific sight that would haunt her for life.
“It’s so painful that a lot of people perished in this bus and their families got nothing from the bus owners. I want compensation from them so that I can take care of myself like I used to do. Right now, I am supposed to go for a review, but I don’t have the money. If I phone one of the bus company’s officials — a Nicholas Sayi — he’s no longer answering my calls,” said Ndlovu.
The accident occurred last year at the 181km peg along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge Road, and it was initially reported to have been caused by a gas cylinder that exploded.
Contacted for comment, Sayi said the company had helped everyone who was involved in the accident with medical bills.
“We encouraged all the victims to be treated at government hospitals and we covered all the hospitals bills. I don’t remember talking to the person whom you are referring to. We covered all the funeral expenses and medical bills of victims,” said Sayi.
Later on Sayi phoned back saying he had spoken to Ndlovu after our inquiry.
“I have spoken to her. I remember, I asked her husband to deposit her claim papers with our insurers in Bulawayo, apparently they have not done so. She said she would do so as soon as she comes to Bulawayo as she has the papers,” Sayi said.
A total 33 people died in the inferno — 32 on the spot — 30 of them burnt beyond recognition while 27 others had serious injuries.
Out of the dead, 27 have been identified through DNA tests conducted by National University of Science and Technology.
Three charred bodies are still held at the United Bulawayo Hospitals’ morgue as they are still to be identified.