The Westdene Dam disaster

33 years on, together we mourn

WESTDENE – This year, 33 years have gone by since one of the country's biggest, tragic disasters.

On 27 March 1985, 42 children lost their lives after a double-decker school bus unexpectedly swerved left into the Westdene Dam.
Up until this day, no one knows why or how 30 children survived and 42 lost their lives.
Many were affected by the Westdene Dam disaster and today they can share memories on platforms like the Westdene Dam Disaster Facebook page or the tribute website.

The scene around Westdene Dam, with people on top of the bus submerged under water

The website has curated interviews, media reports and photos of the incident. Here, one can get a full picture of how many lives were affected by the tragedy.
Survivors like Elize Venter, who helps keep the website running, previously disclosed, in an interview with Netwerk24, that she remembers that day in detail. “We just heard screams. It happened very fast,” she said.
“I don’t remember people around me. I remember steel, I remember the seats of the bus. Then I saw my family standing at my grave.”
Venter was thankfully rescued out of the water. She said afterwards it was difficult for her to accept that people could die at that age.
Indeed, many friends and family still find it difficult to accept that these children died so young, their lives very much still ahead of them.
Neels Els, who was also on the bus and lost his brother Jakobus, previously told Solidariteit Radio that his parents, to this day, are not the same.
He said it completely changed their family and he still dreams about it.
But through platforms like the website and annual picnics at the dam, 33 years later, these young souls are still remembered.
Most of the children were also buried at Westpark Cemetery. A memorial was erected and the graves can still be seen as you enter the cemetery on the left-hand side.

View our archives of the Westdene Dam disaster

Remembering the children who never came home

On the fateful afternoon of 27 March 1985, 42 young lives were lost.
Now, 33 years later, we still remember them.

• Jakobus Frederick Els
• Karin Erasmus
• Francina Fritz
• Adriana Horn
• Jacqueline Hurwitz
• Anel Susan Jacobs
• Hendrik Johannes Dreyer
• Denise Coetzee
• Linda du Plooy
• Caroline Brown
• Renette du Plooy
• Francois du Toit
• Madeleine Ludick
• Belinda McLaughlin

• Cornelius Mans
• Tanya Pieters
• Anna Christina van Tonder
• Elsa Van Heerden
• Elmarie Marshall
• Catharina Maria Meyer
• Mary-Ann Susan Miles
• Anna Jacoba Morris
• Connie Pretorius
• Elizabeth Marlene Pretorius
• Thelma Elizabeth Rautenbach
• Hester Reynders
• Albertus Ouvenkamp
• Charl Strydom

• Andries Johannes Swart
• Conrad Marx
• Petrus Coenraad van der Westhuizen
• Lelanié Juanita Jooste
• Petrus Lucas Koen
• André Kleinhans
• Clasina Elizabeth Kruger
• Maria Catherina Kruger
• Riaan Lira
• Deon Andre Venter
• Vinette Swanepoel
• Anne-Lizé Botha
• Henrietta Catharina Botha
• Anna Susanna Blignaut.

From the memory of the official police photographer

JOBURG – We speak to the official police photographer of the Westdene Dam disaster.

Nico Paizes was the official police photographer on 27 March 1985 and when he arrived, many of the children had already been taken to either the hospital or the mortuary.
Even though many of the thousands of people still surrounded the dam it was eerily quiet, he said.
Paizes, like many others, still wonder how the accident could have happened. He said that among police officers many speculations formed. “Something must have happened,” he said.
Afterwards, Paizes said, weights, representing the children, were put on a test bus and a stunt driver tried to recreate the incident to try and determine what could have happened, but the bus never landed in the water, he said.
Despite the nature of his work, Paizes said he could not help but think it could have been his own children or someone in his family.
“I had to switch myself off so that I could do my job.”
And his job was to identify all points of interest surrounding the investigation at the scene. He took aerial pictures of where the bus went over and where it sank; he took pictures of the bus after it was lifted out of the water.
The bus driver survived and was treated at the then JG Strijdom Hospital.
He could, however, not remember what had happened.

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