Dying for a job
The tragic deaths of eight people in a fitness test for aspirant traffic officers have been forgotten all too soon. Sphumelele Mngoma revisits their stories.
Amonth after eight traffic department hopefuls died trying to complete a 4km run in under 30 minutes, there is still no sign of an inquiry into their deaths.
The Pietermaritzburg heat was unbearable on the day, with temperatures in the 30s.
The eight, desperate for jobs, were shortlisted to participate in the Road Traffic Inspectorate fitness test.
They were among 35 000 shortlisted candidates – from 150 000 applicants – who were competing for 90 posts.
The candidates received SMSes on Christmas Day informing them about when and where they had to report in order to perform the gruelling test.
They were all told to report at 6am at the Harry Gwala Stadium in the KwaZulu-Natal capital to undertake fitness tests on December 27 or 28.
In a letter published in City Press on January 27, National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel asked why he did not know the names of those who lost their lives that day.
“So desperate were they that they accepted the order to run this distance without shade or water in the blistering heat.
“No medals, but the prospect of being selected for one of the 90 jobs that 35 000 people had applied for,” wrote the minister.
He said the difference between their deaths and that of Olympic mountain biker Burry Stander – who was killed last month in a road accident involving a taxi while he was cycling – was stark.
“As I write, I do not know the names of these eight young people. I do not know where they hail from. I have not been introduced to their families and friends.
“There is no reference that would allow me, as a fellow citizen, to sympathise. I have seen a passing reference to a possible inquiry,” wrote Manuel. “To the best of my knowledge, whoever gave the instruction to these 35 000 applicants has not been charged with culpable homicide.
I am yet to understand whether there will be some kind of campaign to prevent a recurrence of a similar tragedy.”
City Press has, for the past two weeks, been asking the provincial department of transport what has happened to calls for an inquiry, and what was contained in the report on the tragedy that was sent to Premier Zweli Mkhize.
This publication is still no closer to getting answers to the those questions.
But City Press has travelled the length and breadth of KwaZulu-Natal to introduce to its readers the seven men and one woman who died following the December 27 test.
We did this so they could mourn properly and in the hope that it will never happen again.