A distraught father, who lost his child after a structure collapsed on top of 26 pupils and claimed three lives at Hoerskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark, says his son is with God in heaven.
Donovan Olckers told News24 that he was at work when he received a frantic call that a bridge had collapsed on top of the children at the school. He quickly rushed to the school and, upon arrival, another pupil told him that his son Roydon, 17, was among those trapped under the rubble.
Olckers has another son in Grade 8 at the same school.
"My younger son was distraught and crying that I should go and help his elder brother who was trapped under the rubble.
"I went to the rubble and was told that Roydon was still breathing and had a pulse. Later, a police officer came to me and broke the sad news that Roydon has passed," he said.
The grieving father described Roydon as an energetic person who loved sport and dancing. The matriculant was on his way to his classroom with other pupils when the tragedy struck.
Olckers arrived with several other parents and residents on Friday evening to lay wreaths outside the school's gates. He bravely addressed the mourning crowd, telling them that his son was now in God's hands.
"I appreciate the support I have received. I am not breaking down in tears and I know that this didn't happen without a reason. There is life after this," he said.
'Only God knows why this happened'
Pastor Wynand Hanekom addressed the mourners, urging them to trust and rely on God. Hanekom comforted the parents in prayer, saying God conquered everything.
"We know where our strength comes from. We pray and wish those in hospitals a speedy recovery. God is with us. He is there for everyone and today. We are standing here seeking his strength," concluded Hanekom.
The Emfuleni municipality's Maipato Tsokolibane said she was humbled by the support offered to the school. She said the incident had affected the entire community and the country at large.
"I am hurt as a parent. We are one united family. I know the pain of losing a child. Only God knows why this has happened. This should not happen again in our schools," she said.
Roydon is one of two male pupils and a female who died on the scene on Friday morning. They were aged between 13 and 18. Twenty-three learners were injured in the accident - five of them seriously. They were all taken to hospital for treatment.
An employee at the school told News24 earlier in the day that she was still tormented by the images of the falling concrete slab. She said she witnessed the tragedy soon after 08:00, when pupils left the assembly hall to return to class.She added that injured pupils were lying near the pathway, while the bodies of the three deceased were trapped underneath the concrete slab.
'It is a sad day'
The concrete slab was above a walkway which linked two buildings at the 45-year-old school.
Shortly after the tragedy, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi shut down the school with immediate effect to allow police to conduct investigations.
Roads around the school were also closed and Lesufi, who had also rushed to the scene, requested co-operation from people in the area."For now, learners are not in a state to go back to classes. We will open an emergency centre in [the] school where counselling will be offered," he said."It is a sad day and we didn't plan, nor anticipate, to have this kind of a disaster. We thank everyone who swiftly responded and assisted to rescue our learners."
Lesufi thanked municipalities who played a role in assisting the injured learners.
Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele said an inquest docket had been opened.