Pupils say bridge was shaking days before collapse

2019-02-03 16:22

Shocked pupils say bridge had been shaking since Wednesday and they were fearful of it, while witnesses say if teenager had not forgotten his schoolbag, he would likely still be alive

The morning started the same way it always did. About 7.30am a prayer was said in the school hall.

After half an hour, children started walking to their classes.

The matrics, who usually sit in the school hall’s gallery, then walked across a pedestrian bridge to their classes.

But Roydon Olckers (17) had forgotten his schoolbag and had run back down to fetch it.

At that exact moment the bridge collapsed, killing Roydon and two other pupils, Jandré Loots Steyn (13) and Marli Currie (13), and sending 23 others to hospital, many of them in a critical state.

A fourth pupil, Marnus Nagel (16), died in hospital on Sunday morning.

If it weren’t for Roydon forgetting his schoolbag, he would likely be alive today, while two of his schoolmates would be dead.

In the final moments before his death, when the bridge started to collapse, Roydon pushed a blonde classmate to safety, while he remained in harm’s way.

This was according to one of Roydon’s friends, who witnessed the collapse of the bridge at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark on Friday.

The collapsed bridge at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark. Picture: Rosetta Msimango/City Press

But it now appears that there might have been warnings of the bridge’s collapse, as early as Wednesday.

Two 17-year-old pupils, a girl and a boy, whose names are being withheld to protect their identity, told City Press’ sister publication, Rapport, that they were just metres from the bridge when it collapsed and that they only narrowly escaped falling off.

“We turned around to chat to a friend,” said one of the pupils.

“We were excited because he had just told us that he would be able to go to the coast with us on holiday. We were about a metre from the bridge when we heard that terrible crash. People began screaming. There was blood. We immediately ran back to the school hall and called our parents.”

One of the pupils also said the bridge had been shaking as early as Wednesday and that pupils were fearful of it.

“To me it sounded a bit like somebody was kicking a rugby ball against the bridge from underneath. The thing is just, there was nobody there and no rugby ball. We got enough of a fright to run away,” he said.

An emotional Donovan Olckers, Roydon’s father, said he wasn’t surprised at his son’s quick action, because it was in his nature to put others first and to try to help them.

That’s one of the reasons Roydon was an excellent dancer. He wanted to join the army after school.

Donovan is calmer now, but was furious on Friday.

“My wife [Sharlene, 49], called and said I urgently had to go meet one of my son’s friends at the quad. They told me ‘your son has passed away’ and that’s when I lost it. I was very angry. I screamed, ‘no, no’, and beat my fists until they bled,” he said, showing his injured hand.

“I thought he was joking.”

Donovan was taken to Roydon’s body, which was covered from the knees up by a blanket.

“I recognised his takkies immediately and there was a lot of blood around him. They asked if I wanted to see his face to identify him, but ag, it wasn’t necessary,” he said.

Since the incident on Friday, shocked parents and members of the public have questioned how it was a possible for a bridge at a school to collapse.

Fingers have been pointed at both the provincial education department and the school.

Hein Knoetze, the school’s principal, told Rapport that maintenance is done right through the year, 24 hours a day.

“The bridge was loose standing. We never submitted a request to repair it to the department, because we never saw it as a danger.

“I always said that I’m the ‘father’ of these children, I would never have allowed the pupils to walk through there if I had thought that their lives were in danger.”

Edward Mosuwe, head of Gauteng education, said the department had not received a request from the school relating to the state of their building before the incident.

“Initial indications are that there was never a report presented to us that spoke to the challenges of structural integrity.

“If you look at the building itself, it looks like a solid building.

“The biggest question is: Did we ever get a report? We have not. I can confirm because I have had to ask the district office and infrastructure team and none of those offices has confirmed that there was ever a report about the maintenance requirements at the school.”

Mosuwe said that the department would appoint an independent company to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the bridge’s collapse.

Of the 23 learners that were injured, three had been discharged from hospitals; others were still being attended to at different hospitals in the province.


Could the school or the education department have done anything to avoid pupils’ deaths?

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September 22 2019