Driehoek schoolboy who died saving others is up for bravery award
Roydon Olckers has been nominated for the Order of Mendi award for sacrificing his life to save fellow schoolmates
A month after the tragedy that rocked the Vaal Triangle community in Gauteng, South Africans are coming together to ensure Roydon Olckers’s heroic act of saving two young girls from a collapsing walkway at school will not be forgotten.
The 18-year-old has been nominated to receive the Order of Mendi award. The order is awarded to South Africans for acts of bravery.
Roydon was one of the four children who died after a walkway collapsed at the Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark on February 1.
He died with Jandré Steyn and Marli Currie. Marnus Nagel died two days later in hospital.
On that Friday morning, the pupils were returning to class after assembly. Some were walking over the cement walkway and others were under it. The path was taken daily, and pupils had no way of knowing that that day would be any different.
According to Olckers’s father Donovan, his son was walking under the walkway. In front of him were Grade 8 pupils Caitelin Harris and Denise Fourie. When Olckers realised the concrete slab was bearing down on him, his last act was to push Harris and Fourie out of harm’s way.
The girls were saved, but Olckers died under the weight of the cement.
Donovan Olckers said he contacted the two girls when he first heard of the nomination to confirm that his son had indeed pushed them from harm’s way.
“A man contacted me via Facebook to ask if it was okay that he nominated my son for the award. I first had to get the facts and, once I did, my only condition was that the man mention the Lord’s name.
“I try to mention the Lord’s name in everything we do now. It is the message for my life. Otherwise, it is boasting, and we are not interested in taking any credit; we’re not that type of family. Of course, I am very proud, but that’s just how I expected him to react. It was instantaneous. I’m not sure how I would have reacted [in his place]. I’m glad he did it. My son is gone, but two other families have daughters.
“But for us the award is not the most important thing.”
He said the family was taking the loss “day by day”.
“It’s difficult to explain. We’re alright sometimes; we take it day by day, hour by hour. Being a Christian takes 80% of the sting out of the pain.
“But it’s like losing a limb. You can wear a prosthetic, but you are never the same. My faith is the only thing I have left.”
Olckers said his wife Sharlene was finding the loss of her son very hard.
“Mother’s relationships with their sons are different [than a father’s relationship with his son].
“She’s not taking it as well as me. It’s difficult [for her], but I support her. I understand it’s [going to be] a long process. She’s a wonderful person, and the tragedy is bringing us closer as a family, my wife and two sons [Vincent and Justin] and me.”
Olckers said he wasn’t angry at the school.
“I don’t keep grudges. [The school has] some system on the go to investigate what happened.
“But I’m not there throwing the first stone; I’m not angry at school. It could be that mistakes were made. It’s possible maybe that checks [into the stability of the walkway] were not made; I don’t know what the procedures are. I’m pretty sure it could have been prevented, but I’m not angry,” he said.
Gauteng education spokesperson Steve Mabona said the investigation into the structural collapse at Hoërskool Driehoek was continuing.
A nomination letter for Olckers, as well as the nomination support list, will be sent to the presidency on May 31 2019. The closing date for the 2019 nominations is the end of August.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is the Grand Patron of the National Orders and will award the Order of Mendi 2019 at the beginning of next year.
On February 21 1917, the SS Mendi ship sank in the English Channel near the Isle of Wight. On board were 646 mostly black South African volunteer soldiers.
According to legend, once the soldiers realised their imminent death, because they did not have usable lifeboats, they began to sing and perform a traditional death dance.
The Order of Mendi is awarded for similar acts of courage.