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Bus conductor relives A3 horror crash that killed 23

Christinah Motlhabane
STILL STANDING: Olebetse 'Tatown' Monthe

“I nearly failed to make it up the stairs, this leg still hurts,” moans Tatown by way of greeting, putting his single crutch aside and groaning slightly as he sits down for our interview on Tuesday afternoon.

His physical discomfort is nothing compared to the mental scars he carries.

The 42-year-old former bus conductor is here (The Voice’s Francistown office) to talk about the events of 1 June 2023.

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It is a day shrouded in grief, a day when 23 souls lost their lives along the A3 Road, when a truck ploughed head-on into a sprinter combi just before midday.

Of the 25 people aboard the sprinter that left Francistown that day, 22 died; Olebetse Monthe aka Tatown was one of the three survivors.

Seven months later and the father-of-six finally feels ready to speak about the accident.

Taking a deep, calming breath, the Sebina native says in hindsight, the signs were there that something was not right.

“It was a heavy morning my sister, things were weird. There were no buses leaving from Maun from 7am to 10am. This never happens, normally there’s one departing every half hour.

“My driver was late with the bus. I asked people to be patient and queue; by the time he arrived, at around 9:30am, some had been waiting for two hours,” says Tatown, adding several in the queue then chose not to board, opting to wait for a later bus when it would be cooler.

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It was a decision that probably saved their lives.

“We left the bus rank with 18 passengers and picked another four at the airport hiking stop. The last person boarded at Mathangwane village,” continues Tatown, his eyes misting up.

Moments before the fatal crash, which occurred just after the Marapong turn-off, the bus narrowly avoided hitting a cyclist by the roadside.

“We were still in shock at almost bumping the man on a bike when a truck appeared on our side of the road, swerving violently. I suspect whoever was driving may have fallen asleep.”

With the huge lorry hurtling towards them, and nowhere for the bus driver to go as that part of the road is more rubble than tar, everyone stood up, screaming.

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“I don’t remember much about the impact, just a load explosion, like a bomb. Both vehicles were ripped open; people were cut at the chest, as they were on their feet.”

Tatown was sent flying out a window, flung open due to the force of the collision; had it remained closed, he surely would have died.

As he lay in the dirt, his body scratched and bleeding but somehow still in one piece, Tatown surveyed the damage.

It is a sight he will never forget.

“I saw people dying, moaning in pain, crying for help, blood gushing from everyone. Both the bus and truck were destroyed, crumpled, the metal torn apart. The driver was in a bad state, I called his name to no answer. That is when I realised Sungwasha was gone,” says Tatown, unable to suppress tears for his fallen friend.

“After some minutes, a combi from Sowa came and they slowly lifted me to sit up. The cops and ambulances arrived, and they started to package bodies in body bags. It was scary, but I had given up. I could not feel any pain, my body was just itching,” he recalls.

Tatown suffered injuries on his leg, head and waist.

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Hospitalized for a month at Riverside Hospital, after being discharged he spent a further two-and-a-half months confined to a wheelchair.

Today he walks with a slight limp, and needs a crutch for support, although the doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

Describing the A3 as a deathtrap, Tatown pleaded with government to widen the road immediately.

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“If they delay, many more lives will be lost,” warns Tatown, whose accident occurred less than a year after another A3 horror crash which resulted in 16 causalities.

Ending on a high note, Tatown was keen to thank his former employer, Tabona Mbaiwa, for continuing to give him a monthly salary.

“I must also thank my colleagues at the bus rank for the Christmas food and toiletries.”

The first born and sole breadwinner of five siblings, Tatown is not fit enough to resume his job as a conductor yet; instead he spends his days at the bus rank working as a queue marshal.

“My wish is to own a business so I can help my siblings and six children,” he reveals.

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