DURBAN – It was his first day on the job and Sanele May had mixed emotions. Excited because he had landed himself a driving job but nervous because he had not driven a truck a long distance before.

It was September 5, 2013. May was on his way back from Joburg where he had dropped off a load of containers and, while passing through Fields Hill, he lost control of the truck he had been driving, and ploughed into several vehicles. Twenty-four people were killed.

Swazi national Sanele May is currently serving an eight-year jail term at Umzinto Correctional Services Centre. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/ANA Pictures

May arrived in South Africa in search of a better life.

The 26-old left his home in rural Swaziland in 2012 with the hope of escaping poverty after his grandmother, Rosalina Sibandze, was burnt to death in a freak accident.

When he arrived in Durban he had no money for rent or food and all he had was a Grade 8 education and a Code 14 driver’s licence.

“My mother (Elizabeth Sibandze) died when I was six and my grandmother raised me and six siblings. We struggled but things got really bad after my grandmother’s death in 2010 so I chose to leave,” May said.

For months, he earned R80 a day washing trucks for a logistics company in Durban and used some of that money to pay for the professional driving permit.

“I’d worked for another trucking company before joining Sagekal Logistics, but it was my first day on duty and I was taking containers to Durban when the accident happened,” May added.

He still stands by his initial statement that the truck’s brakes failed, causing him to lose control down Fields Hill and then plough into two cars and four minibus taxis.

May thought he was going to die that day and said for a long time he felt guilty for surviving the crash while others died.

“It took me a long time to accept what had happened but through the help of people here (Umzinto Correctional Services) and members of the Sanele May Support Group, I’m seeing better days,” he said.

One of the toughest things he has done since coming to prison was to write to the families of the 24 people who died in the crash but he said it was an important part of his healing process.

“I’d never had an opportunity to tell them how sorry I was for what happened and I believe in asking for people’s forgiveness. Yes, it was an accident but I still felt guilty. Some families wrote back saying they’d forgiven me and some even came to visit me in 2015. That made me feel really good,” he said with a shy smile.

However, not all of them have forgiven him. “They said they wished I’d died in the accident,” May said. “I can’t say I blame them. They lost the people they loved and some are living a tough life because they lost breadwinners. But every day I pray that they find healing one day and for God to give them strength.”

May has not had any contact with his former employer and owner of Sagekal Logistics, Gregory Govender, since the accident but he has been following up on the National Prosecuting Authority’s case against him.

Govender is facing four charges related to the crash, including violating traffic regulations and employing an illegal foreigner.

The state alleges that the truck and trailer were not in a roadworthy condition and, by allowing it to be used on the road, Govender “did not conduct his operations with due care to the safety of the public”.

“The mechanics employed by the accused (Govender) were unqualified and had no formal mechanical training,” the charge sheet further reads. Govender will be back in court next month.

While May said he did not blame Govender for what happened, he said reopening the investigation on the state of the truck at the time of the accident would help shed light on the events that led to the crash.

“As I said, it was my first day on the job so I had no idea how he conducted his business, but I think the trial will help the families of the victims know the real truth because there are questions I cannot answer,” he said.

May said he was dis- appointed that Govender had not offered any financial assistance to the families of the victims.

“Some of the families are really struggling and every bit could have helped.”

Govender’s lawyer, Theasan Pillay, confirmed that he had not made any contact or payment to the families.

May is expected to be released in 2019 but in the meantime he spends his time studying towards his matric. He will be writing his first three subjects later this month and will write the remaining three next year.

“I’ve been blessed with people who motivate me to do better in life. They tell me that being in prison does not have to mean the end of me. Last year, I did Grade 11 and I was so happy when I passed,” he said.

In his spare time he plays soccer with his friends and brags about being the best goalie in the whole of Umzinto.

“Nothing gets past me, you can ask anyone,” he said with an almost child-like twinkle that you seldom see in his eyes.

He has fond memories of growing up in Swaziland and misses home, where he plans to return when he is released.

“The first thing I want to do is to look for my father… He left the day after I was born and we haven’t seen him since. For me it’s important to find him because I’m a man and I would want to have my own family one day.

“It’s hard to carry the last name of a man I’ve never seen – I don’t even know his clan praises (a history of a clan and its founders), and when people ask me I try to make a joke and say it’s June, July, August,” May said wistfully.


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