Shocked parents and teachers gathered on the school grounds of Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark on Friday morning as paramedics worked to try to retrieve the bodies of three pupils who were killed when a walkway collapsed.
At a briefing, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi confirmed that three children had died. He said the deceased included two boys and a girl. Only one of the deceased has been identified.
The department is still trying to locate the parents of the other two children so they can notify them.
A teacher told News24 that the walkway collapsed over children as they returned to class after attending assembly just after 08:00.
"Multiple people have sustained injuries, ranging from minor to moderate. At least five people are in a critical condition," Netcare's Shawn Herbst said in a statement. At least 26 pupils were injured.
Ward councillor Phillip Nothnagel said the walkway connected two buildings.
"Structural engineers were called to the scene together with building inspectors.
"They assessed the place to ensure that it is safe. We sympathise with the families and we call on them to avail themselves for counselling, including everyone who is affected," he said.
Jacques Pelser told News24 that he dashed to the school after hearing the news of the tragedy.
"I thought my niece, who is a student at the school, was among the injured," he said.
"I am still in shock about what I've seen."
Pelser refused to describe the scene, which was closed off to the media. However, he told News24 that he was grateful that his niece, who is in Grade 10, was safe.
"My condolences to the families of the deceased. No parent wants to lose their child.
"I don't think I will be able to sleep tonight I am going to the doctor to obtain pills that will assist me to sleep," he said.