An eight-year-old boy has emerged as the hero of last weekend’s Eastern Cape bus crash in which 35 people died.
Had it not been for little Kamva Ntsasa, who pulled himself out of the wreckage and climbed out of the valley in search of passing cars, there could have been even fewer than nine survivors.
Kamva was on his way to Butterworth for a shopping trip with his aunt and cousins when the Africa’s Best 350 bus they were travelling in veered off the road and plunged into a river bed after its brakes failed.
His aunt Nosicelo (36), and cousins Bahle (13) and Lilitha (6), died in the crash.
Kamva spoke to City Press at his home in Lower Gwathu shortly after he was discharged from the Frere Hospital in East London on Thursday. He told of his excitement before the bus ride because his Makazi had promised him and his cousins a treat and a feast, as it had been a long time since she had spoilt them.
“She had promised to buy us nice things – clothes and lots of food. It was supposed to have been a good Saturday outing to town. We rarely go to town and were excited. At the bus stop, we were playing along with my cousins and sharing jokes, waiting for the bus. We were looking forward to going to town,” said the boy, whose cuts on his forehead were starting to heal. He had bandages on both knees.
Kamva, whose father is a mine worker, lives with his mother near Nqabara, 25km from Willowvale and 47km from Butterworth. He had begged his aunt not to take the bus because he knew they had a bad reputation.
“I told Makazi that we should not take a bus because they always crash and that a bakkie was better because they are faster and have fewer accidents. But my aunt insisted we take the bus,” he explained.
On the bus, Kamva noticed the driver was speeding, but he and his cousins continued to play, assuming it was normal.
As the bus approached a steep valley after negotiating a number of sharp curves, passengers began shouting and had serious looks on their faces. He did not understand what was happening at first, but then his aunt grabbed him and his cousins, and started praying.
“The bus now was going at even higher speed. People were screaming. At one moment, I saw the bus flying and heard a big banging sound. The bus had crashed and we were in a river. Bahle, my cousin, landed on top of me and the bus was on its side.
“I told Bahle to move away from me, but he was not responding. He did not move. I pushed him aside,” he said.
Kamva then pulled himself out of the wreckage. Neither his younger cousin, the little girl Lilitha, nor his aunt moved or responded to his cries for them to wake up. Both his legs hurt, but he gathered his strength and started looking for a phone so that he could call his mother.
He found one in the pocket of a man who was lying motionless. He picked up a rock and broke one of the windows, and climbed on top of the bus, which was lying on its side.
There, he found a spot where there was enough signal for him to make a call. But when he tried to phone his mum, Noluthando, the phone had no airtime. So he sent a please call me.
“Fortunately, my mother called me back immediately, and I told her it was me, the bus had crashed and we needed help,” he said.
While waiting for his mother, he climbed out of the steep river bank, obscured from passing cars by dense bush.
At the road, he flagged down a car and told the driver, a young man, about the crash, and then police and ambulances were called to the scene.
Kamva was taken to Frere Hospital, where he was treated for severely bruised knees.
Provincial Arrive Alive spokesperson Tshepo Machaea said 44 passengers had been on the 60-seater bus. Of those, 34 died on the scene, and one later in hospital. Among the dead were four children, 16 men and 19 women. Four survivors were still in hospital.
Kamva, who wants to be a teacher one day, says it will take a long time before he gets on to a bus again.
“I have never liked buses, and after what happened last Saturday, I don’t think I want to ride one anytime soon,” he said.