Category: Johannesburg

OTD: The Westdene Bus Disaster

On this day,  27 March 1985 it was supposed to be yet another school day for the pupils of Hoërskool Vorentoe, in fact it was supposed to be a normal day for the whole of South Africa, but the events surrounding the Westdene bus disaster changed all of that in a brief tragedy that will remain with us all forever.  It is one of those surrealistic moments in your life that somehow remains with you forever.  The day was subdued after that, even though that was not true at Westdene Dam where divers were frantically searching for bodies and parents were standing grief stricken, knowing that their son or daughter would not be coming home on that day. 

Westdene Dam. (1500x466)

Westdene Dam. (1500×466)

The actual cause of the disaster was never really pinned down to any singular factor; the driver  never really gave an adequate explanation, there was no mechanical fault with the bus, and the weather conditions were not poor. I seem to recall that he said another car had swerved, or he had blacked out. Faced with the imminent backlash and the trauma that he had gone through too, it was no wonder that no single cause was ever found.

I won’t delve into the disaster because I was not directly involved and do not know the facts, there are others more qualified to do that. It was one of those moments in South African history that has remained in our pysche since 1985.   

Those that died in the disaster are mostly buried in Westpark cemetery in a dedicated plot close to the main gate. It is a tragic place to visit because the sheer sale of the disaster is only experienced when you are faced with seeing all of the graves together. 

In 2011 I spent some time in Westpark photographing all of the graves, sadly they were all desecrated a long time ago and never restored. I spent time hunting down the graves in the general cemetery and they too had been desecrated. Nobody has even been able to explain why this happened, and who was responsible. It was a sad pilgrimage for me, trying to match headstones with names, and seeing those names in the registers made it just a bit harder. The funeral for all of the children was held on the same day, and a sad day it was for so many people.

It took until 2007 for a memorial to be erected to the victims,  and even this has had its fair share of controversy.  

In 2014 I revisited the graves while I was down in South Africa and photographed the small photographs that were on some of the graves, one day I will match faces to names and make my own records of the disaster a little more complete. 

There are two graves that stick out for me, the first is grave number 7, where two sisters are buried together (Reinette and Linda Du Plooy) , and the grave of Caroline Brown who is buried in the general part of the cemetery in a grave that was stripped of its name like so many others.  The vandalism of the graves was not random, it was targeted, somebody went out of their way to hunt down the graves and desecrate them

It is just over 30 years since the disaster, had it not happened some of those children would have been mothers or fathers today, they would have had families of their own, and just possibly their children would have attended that same school that they had attended so many years ago. There are a lot of what if’s associated with the Westdene Bus Disaster, it was all a matter of timing. catching a different bus, or sitting upstairs or downstairs was the difference between life of death.

There were a lot of heroes on 27 March 1985, but sadly there were too many victims. May They Rest in Peace 

Images of the graves are available on eggsa. I sincerely hope that one day they get restored. 

My own page about the memorial may be found at Allatsea

DRW © 2016-2020. Originally created 27/03/2016

Updated: 27/03/2020 — 19:52

Litter Bug!

One nasty side effect of the recent flooding has been the proliferation of litter that is now on the tide marks of the flood water. Where I stay this is particularly true and the majority of litter is plastic bottles. 

Yes, somebody was too bloody lazy to throw their litter into a bin or take it home to dispose of it. Makes you feel proud to be a member of the human race! 

Our town has an active group of volunteer litter pickers that goes around picking up other people’s crap and keeping the streets relatively clean although it is a thankless task and a never ending one too. I occasionally help out but am not a registered picker and don’t really have the bags and place to dispose of the contents in.  This morning I took my handy picker and 2 bags and tried to make a dent on the landscape. I filled 2 black bags with litter, although it was mostly plastic drinks and water bottles. It looks better already!

Before

After

I am not done yet, just after I post this I am meeting up with others who want to tackle the mess. We are going to make a difference, even if it is a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately because of the nature of the floodwater the litter is not really recyclable so it will all end up in a garbage site somewhere. 

Hopefully I will get some pics a bit later today to show what we did. Watch this space and pick up that garbage!! 

Job done…

Before

After

 

Unfortunately the mess on the other river bank will need to be approached from a different angle and we have not worked that out yet. But things are looking so much better now. 6 bags of litter was collected on the riverbank, and there is probably enough to be found to fill another 3.

Out of interest I worked on a recycling line way back in 2015 and learnt quite a lot while wading through the conveyor belt that rushed past me. A large portion of what went past us was catalogues in plastic bags addressed to somebody that had been thrown away unopened. People throw anything away… from clothing to food, plastic, cardboard, polystyrene, electronic waste and tons of unidentifiable rubbish. We were doing this just after Christmas so we had the additional burden of unwanted gift wrapping and decorations, food packaging, and the normal run of the mill stuff. To help pass the time I used to count clothing items to see how many people I could cloth on a shift from clothing that had been binned;  I seem to remember one evening tallying up enough clothing for 8 people! (including shoes and underwear).  Naturally some things I wanted to save, quite a lot of old family photographs passed along our line and those were sad because one day somebody may ask about them.  They were not mere photographs but often the only tangible reminder of lives that have passed. 

So, having enthralled everybody with my tales from the garbage age I would like to share two photos that I took in Johannesburg in 2012.  

This is the daily slog for many of the informal litter pickers who trudge through the streets in South Africa with their strange cart-traptions, They recycle tins, paper, cardboard and almost anything that has value. White paper is particularly favoured as it does have a high resale value. People like this do not get the full value of their collecting as it is often sold to a middleman at a fraction of the price. As much as they tended to mess up traffic with their huge loads they not only kept our streets cleaner but also performed a very necessary role in the recycling chain.  Where I used to work in Kyalami Business Park there were many cardboard collectors vying for a place in the pecking order, and we employed one to help us clear out our workshop and we even gave him a few days casual work, but his already difficult life was messed up when somebody stole his trolley, forcing him to have to carry his loads by hand, and even at the bottom of society your life can change dramatically overnight. If I had 10 of these guys we could clean this town up in a week, although the odds are 20 more would suddenly appear out of nowhere for such is the nature of poverty and need.  Remember: there but for the grace of God go I.  

Right.. let me grab my goodies and go do my good deed for the day. 

DRW © 2020. Created 14/03/2020 

Updated: 22/03/2020 — 10:40

OTD: The Braamfontein Dynamite Explosion

One of the many events that occurred in the fledgling city of Johannesburg was the Dynamite Explosion that occurred on 19 February 1896 at Braamfontein Station. A memorial was erected in Braamfontein Cemetery to commemorate the event, and the over 70 people that lost their lives in it. An explosives train, carrying dynamite, had been left standing for 3 days in searing heat in what was then Braamfontein goods yard; the massive explosion occurred when this train was struck by another that was shunting. It left a crater over 60 m long and 8 m deep and was heard 200 km away. The exact number of casualties was never ascertained, and over 200 people were seriously injured. Some 3 000 people lost their homes and almost every window in the town was shattered. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact site where the explosion occurred but a period map puts it on the bend where Braamfontein Vapour Depot now stands.

I have spotted at least 5 physical graves in Braamfontein cemetery that have explosion related inscriptions on them, and it is probable that most of the casualties are buried in this cemetery, the majority of the funerals being held on the 20th and 21st of February. I can physically identify 46 names in the registers as being marked as “dynamite explosion”, and all are buried in the DR section. There is also supposedly a mass grave in this plot where unidentified severed limbs are buried.

atcutt_a161aaaa

Apart from the devastation that the explosion created, it would have also tested the fledgling cities ability to manage a disaster of this magnitude. Braamfontein Cemetery was relatively new when this happened and it would be here that the victims were buried. It is certain that there were African victims too, and they are also probably buried here in an area that has been ploughed under. I was not able to check against the register because I did not find a register for that area. There may also be victims buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery, but the register for that was not available at the time.  It is an interesting piece of history though, albeit one that has been almost forgotten.

DR Walker ©  2011-2020. Recreated and expanded 23/05/2016. 

Updated: 20/02/2020 — 08:31
DR Walker © 2014 -2020. Images are copyright to DR Walker unless otherwise stated. Frontier Theme