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Westdene Dam bus tragedy victims remembered

 

African National Congress struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada, who in 2012 was given the Freedom of the City by the City of Johannesburg, yesterday, 16 June, led a wreath-laying ceremony at the Westdene Dam, the scene of a horrific bus accident in which 42 Hoërskool Vorentoe pupils perished 30 years ago.

The event formed part of the City’s June 16 1976 commemoration services held.

At the Christ the King Church in nearby Sophiatown later, homage was paid to the “heroes and heroines” of 1976 and all youth who lost their lives prematurely.

“We are here on this historic day to celebrate the youth and to remember the scores of youths who were killed in the struggle for freedom. We honour the scores who were killed during the 1976 massacre and the 42 children who died in the Westdene Dam bus disaster, as well as to celebrate the life of a struggle stalwart, the Rev Trevor Huddleston, a man who played an integral role in our pursuit for freedom,” said Kathrada.

He and hundreds of pupils and Westdene and Sophiatown residents listened attentively as Elize Venter, one of the survivors of the Westdene Bus disaster, conveyed her thanks to the City and the Kathrada Foundation for recognising the lives of Hoërskool Voerentoe pupils who died when the yellow double decker bus they were travelling in plunged into the dam on 27 March 1985.

“This year is the 30th anniversary of that fateful day and despite the time that has passed the pain of losing so many of our friends is still felt. This disaster shook the community to its core and it’s only over time that we have been able to reach out to one another and be there as support for one another. I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the City of Johannesburg for acknowledging us on this historic day,” she said.

Venter said this year the survivors of the disaster and their families would work on restoring the children’s graves at the Heroes Acre at Westpark Cemetery. Councillor Cathy Seefort said the wreath-laying ceremony was an annual effort by the City to foster social transformation.

“As the young learners gathered here today leave this ceremony I’d like them to contemplate on the lessons learned today, which is to work together to build one another as young people and the future leaders of this country,” she said.

Micaih King, a learner at the Fred Norman Secondary School, said being part of a Youth Day commemoration service had enabled her and fellow pupils to better appreciate the contributions and ways in which the youth shaped South Africa.

“I'm so appreciative of the freedoms we enjoy today, freedoms we at times take for granted. Listening to the survivors of the Westdene Dam bus disaster has helped me to understand the life experiences of others and I’m grateful to have had that experience,” said King.

Edzani Ndwambi, also from Fred Norman Secondary, said the ceremony had opened her eyes to “the histories I didn’t know”.

“By celebrating the lives of all youth we are embracing our diversity as South Africans,” said Ndwambi.