Taxi driver: Forgive me my sins and for the 15 deaths I caused
Former taxi driver publicly apologises to families of passengers who died when he drove into oncoming traffic
Khulekani Gwala sat staring at the floor, his shackled feet shaking in nervous tension as the loud cries of the families of his dead victims reverberated through the small Cramond community hall in KwaZulu-Natal.
Gwala was the driver of the minibus taxi that claimed 15 lives in September 2011 in Pietermaritzburg, when he crossed two solid barrier lines and drove into oncoming traffic to overtake other vehicles.
“It was the end of the month. I was speeding because I was rushing to take people to and from Thokozani [Cramond],” recalled a nervous Gwala.
He continued speeding into oncoming traffic around a bend that restricted visibility to 80 metres.
His taxi sideswiped a car and crashed into an oncoming truck. The vehicle landed on an embankment with the truck on top of it.
“I was pulled out of the car and taken to the police station, where the police told me of the damage I had caused,” Gwala said.
“Every time I see an accident on TV it hurts because I think of what I did to you, and for that I am truly sorry,” he said.
He was convicted on 15 counts of culpable homicide and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Gwala was speaking to the family members of the accident victims who died in Cramond on Thursday as part of the KwaZulu-Natal department of correctional services victim-offender dialogue programme.
The programme aims to connect offenders with the families of their victims as part of the prison system’s rehabilitation and restoration efforts.
Before Gwala could even speak, family members started breaking down, and soon loud weeps swept through the room.
One gogo, overcome with emotion, fainted and had to be taken outside. Some of them had never seen Gwala, and were still grieving their loss.
Eventually, Gwala’s head lifted when a shaky voice came from the back of the room.
“My mother and sister were in that taxi, and I forgive you my brother,” said Collen Zondi, 25.
Zondi’s mom Thembi, 52, and sister Ndombikayise, 35, were on their way to meet him. Zondi had taken an earlier taxi to town that morning to wait in the long lines at home affairs. They were en route to help him with his identification document when the tragedy struck.
“It hurts because I was not able to succeed because my mother was the one supporting me. After she died, I couldn’t concentrate and I failed school, but I forgive you because we all have our mistakes,” he said.
Gwala was met with forgiveness by all the families, something he said he had always dreamed about.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I have always wanted to apologise, but I didn’t know how to,” he said.
Other family members used the opportunity to share stories of the pain he left in their hearts.
Ntombenhle Makhaye lost her sister-in-law, Gabisile Ndlovu, in the accident and is now caring for Ndlovu’s two children aged 25 and 15.
“I would like to ask that you all pray for me to help me raise these children. Sometimes when the oldest one misbehaves, the youngest clutches on to his mother’s picture and says: ‘If mom were here, Londi would not be doing what he is doing.’ I forgive you, but I want you to know how hard this has been for me,” said an emotional Makhaye.
Provincial correctional services spokesperson Thulani Mdluli said that with this programme, the department hoped to help ease the reintegration of prisoners into society.
“We can’t have permanent prisons. As much as someone has committed a crime, some will one day be released into society, and we hope that this programme will help families and victims deal with the offenders once they are released,” said Mdluli. Gwala is now eligible for parole, having spent six years in jail since he was sentenced in 2013.