I saw Driehoek horror: ‘Children fell from above’
'It could have been me,' says traumatised pupil who describes seeing fellow pupils underneath collapsed walkway
Pupils of Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark was expected to return to school on Wednesday for the first time since the collapse of a concrete walkway killed four children, paralysed a girl and left at least another 20 pupils in hospital.
Flowers, candles and messages of remembrance lined the fence outside the school, paying tribute to Roydon Olckers, Jandré Steyn, Marli Currie and Marnus Nagel, who succumbed to his injuries in hospital. Annari du Plessis, of the Go Purple Foundation which supports victims of rape, abuse and molestation, said it would take the children of the school a very long time to process what had happened.
“What these children saw is ground zero. I hear stories that really ripped my heart,” Du Plessis told Times Select.
She said it was heartbreaking the hear the stories being shared during counselling sessions, and urged residents who have any form of experience in trauma counselling or debriefing to come forward and support the school.
“Don’t push them to talk. Just breathe and realise that your child has been traumatised. If they are not ready to speak, accept that.”
One of those children, Grade 11 pupil Rolandi Venter, has written an emotional account of what she saw on Friday morning. It was published on the Facebook page of the Gebedsgroep vir Driehoek Kinders.
Read her full post below, translated from Afrikaans:
“My side of the story ...
What happened Friday at our school (Hoërskool Driehoek) was the most tragic thing that had ever happened to me. I am one of the pupils who did not suffer ANY injuries. But I did see it all happen. I was on my way to our homeroom class when I saw and experienced the tragedy.
I have many questions about it…
Why our school?
Why didn’t it happen when no one was there?
Why those children?
Why not me?
Yes, I know it is not the place to question everything, but why?
But it could just as well have been me.
I feel I should talk about this because it was the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life.
But the stuff going through my head is how many times did I not run over that same bridge, jumped, walked and even sat on it. How many times have I not been over that bridge?
How many times have I not been under that bridge?
But why not me?
Yes, I was spared for a good reason, but what is that reason? I know I have to wait and see and that one day I will know.
But now I am going to tell you my side of the story and how I experienced it and what I can remember.
I went to school on Friday about 7.15am and I was in a tearful mood because I was forced to wear trousers I didn’t like.
I met my friend as usual and then we went and sat on ‘our’ bench under the tree next to the quad. I told her I needed to go to the admin office to buy a new school dress because I was still wearing the old school uniform. We walked underneath the bridge to the office to go and fit a dress. The Tannie said we should rather come in break time. Break time never arrived.
As we walked back to our bench, the bell rang and we got our homework books and went to the school hall.
Assembly started and as usual our Grade 11 class gets scolded for talking non-stop. The school principal said we should stay behind because he wants to talk to us.
Assembly continued as per normal.
Then we were dismissed and the principal said we must leave, he will talk to us another time (but the short period that we stayed behind did not only save my life but ALL the Grade 11’s lives).
My friend and I walked out of the hall underneath the bridge to our classes that are on the third floor.
Then suddenly we saw something fall that looked like a white piece of paper, and we saw children fall from above.
The thing that fell did not make such as loud noise as one would have thought. It sounded like a speaker had blown. I first thought there were people shooting at us, because why would children jump from above and why are there children lying flat on the ground?
(This happened about five metres in front of me). I walked closer to see if it really was people shooting at us ... AND THAT IS WHEN EVERYTHING HIT ME.
I saw the slab on the ground and even saw some of the children underneath it.
In a panic I ran in another direction.
All I could think was ... I have to call my dad.
I want to go home.
I have to get away from here.
I want my mom NOW.
I am not the type of person for blood and such things and I get hysterical in such situations. All I could do was run and cry.
As I ran, I lost my friend, she has another two brothers in the school, one in Grade 8 and one in Grade 9, she ran to go and look for them (Fortunately both were okay).
I ran back to my school bag where I battled to work on my phone to call my dad and to tell him he must come help and get me away from here.
While I was battling, my boyfriend ran to me to check if I am okay.
Then a teacher sternly sent us back into the school hall and as I walked back I saw more than I had to.
We went to sit on the grass behind the school by the small office gate and all I heard was ‘put down your phone and pray, that’s all we can do now, get your people and pray’. As we were sitting and praying I got hold of my dad and all he said was, ‘I am on my way, I am coming’.
These were the most beautiful best words I heard after the tragedy.
While I was waiting for my father, my family phoned me one by one to hear if I am okay and all I could say was, ‘I am okay, I am okay, I didn’t get hurt, I am scared, okay bye.’ Then they would start crying out of relief.
The only good I saw on Friday was the crying, stressing mothers storming into the school gate in search of her own child and when she finds her child then tears of relief and gratefulness flow.
I left my school bag at school because I did not want to see those tragic things again.
My dad first went to see if he can help before he took me and my other friend home. From home we went straight to hospital so that they can give us something to calm us down because I had completely lost my head ...
At the hospital, other children’s mothers just came to you and cried and hugged you out of relief even if they don’t know you.
That is all I can remember ...
I don’t want to go back to that school.
I don’t want to walk there again.
I don’t want to see again what I saw.
This is not our school principal’s fault because if he had known what would have happened, I know he would rather have given his own life than have one of our pupils lose their lives.
Driehoek was NEVER ever bad to me and this is not the school’s fault.
But I do not want to go back ... ”