The farmworkers were killed when the truck they were travelling in collided head-on with another truck.
Cape Town – A truck collision that claimed the lives of nine people has brought farmworker transport safety into the spotlight amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The nine farmworkers were killed when the truck they were travelling in collided head-on with another truck on the N1 between Touws River and De Doorns on Tuesday.
It is believed that at about 7am, an oncoming truck driver travelling from Cape Town towards the north had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
The truck is suspected to have veered into the wrong lane and collided with the truck carrying workers.
Initially, about 18 people were injured and six declared dead on the scene.
Later in the day, another three succumbed to their injuries. Both drivers were injured and also taken to hospital in Worcester.
Police spokesperson Andrè Traut said they were investigating a case of culpable homicide.
ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring said they, along with Life Healthcare and the Western Cape Metro, found a number of people lying scattered around the vehicle. “Medics assessed the patients and found that six people had sustained fatal injuries.”
He said the injured passengers were tended to on the scene.
“Assessments showed that the injuries sustained ranged from critical to moderate. Paramedics treated the patients and provided several of them with advanced life-support interventions.
“Once treated, one critically injured patient was airlifted by the AMS medical helicopter to a nearby hospital, while the remaining patients were transported to nearby hospitals for further care,” said Meiring.
Farmworkers are classified as essential workers and therefore have to go to work.
Executive director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation Billy Claasen said: “Farmers and labour contractors sometimes make use of open trucks to transport workers.
“This practice is dangerous to farmworkers, who sit without any protection.
“We call on the authorities to give the necessary support to the farmworkers and the families in this time of shock and bereavement.
“This places the spotlight again on the transportation of farmworkers. Today we still await reports of accidents that happened years ago in Piketberg, Stellenbosch, Citrusdal and Saron, to mention a few.”
Claasen urged President Cyril Ramaphosa and the minister of labour and agriculture to step in and “stop this inhumane transportation of farmworkers on open trucks and bakkies”.
President of the Black Association of the Agriculture Sector, Nosey Pieterse, said farmworkers were most vulnerable during lockdown.
“The news of this accident really hit us hard. During this time, farmworkers have no access to their unions. They can only make calls, which is not the same as visiting them and seeing how they are in the lockdown.
”We are not there to ensure all necessary equipment they require to protect themselves, such as gloves and masks, are there.
“Unfortunately, this accident has proved they are not protected because there is no physical distancing when a truck is packed with 28 or more people.
“The government needs to look at this because it seems there is a certain set of rules and regulations and none of them protects farmworkers.
“We will follow this case and make sure the law takes its course,” said Pieterse.
Women on Farms Project also sent condolences to the families and friends of the workers killed, and also called on the government to introduce and enforce strict provisions for the safe and dignified transport of workers.
Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer said: “It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the tragic passing of agri workers in a horrific accident on the N1 between De Doorns and Touws River.
“I have dispatched staff from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture to the scene where they will immediately facilitate access to counselling for the families of the deceased and injured.
“They will also determine to what extent the department can assist with funeral arrangements and provide further support.”