DURBAN, 5 May 2017 – The owner of a truck that lost control on Fields Hill four years ago and killed 24 people has pleaded guilty to four charges and entered into a plea agreement with the state which will see him only pay a fine.
However, Gregory Govender is likely not to see the inside of a jail cell, having the option to pay a total fine of R25,000 as part of his agreement reached with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Monday.
In September 2013, the articulated truck owned by Govender lost control while descending the notorious Fields Hill with an inexperienced illegal Swazi immigrant at the wheel.
Driver Sanele May took the off-ramp towards Richmond Road, Pinetown. As he neared the traffic intersection his light turned red and the crossing traffic started to flow.
May failed to stop and smashed into two cars and four minibus taxis, killing 22 people. The brakes on the vehicle had failed. Another two people later died in hospital. Shortly thereafter, 24 large white crosses were erected on the grassland near the accident scene.
May is serving a 10-year sentence at the Umzinto Correctional Services facility. He pleaded guilty to 31 charges in November 2014, including possession of a fake driver’s licence, fraud, culpable homicide, entering South Africa illegally and failing to comply with a road traffic sign.
Govender, whose freight company Sagekal Logistics, has since gone into liquidation, had maintained his innocence since 2013.
However, on Monday the NPA announced that Govender had entered into a plea and sentence agreement.
According to the NPA, Govender pleaded guilty to contravention of the National Road Traffic Act regarding the roadworthiness of the truck and the trailer that was involved in the crash, and contravention of the Act in terms of the duties of an operator, where the operator of a motor vehicle is expected to conduct his operations with due care to public safety.
The fourth charge was a contravention of the Immigration Act, and related to the employment of the driver of the truck (May) who was illegally in the country.
“For counts 1 and 2 (taken as one for the purpose of sentencing), the accused was sentenced to a fine of R10,000 or twelve months imprisonment. He was further sentenced to a fine of R10,000 or twelve months imprisonment for count 3 and a fine of R5,000 or six months imprisonment for count 4,” according to the NPA’s KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson, Natasha Kara.
KZN Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Moipone Noko, said they welcomed the sentence.
“We welcome the sentence and hope it serves as a warning to transport operators to ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy. Truck accidents contribute significantly to the carnage on our roads,” said Noko.
May has enjoyed an extraordinary amount of support from predominately middle-class women who live in Durban’s plush western suburbs, otherwise known as the Upper-Highway, with the group known as the Sanele May Support Group.
Group founder, Peach Piche, posted on Facebook shortly after the Govender judgement that the fine should have been more substantial and should have included compensation for the families of the victims.
“The fact that Sanele was placed in that situation and so many people died was due to the negligence of the truck owner not ensuring that his vehicles were roadworthy and it does not seem fair that Sanele got 10 years in jail and Govender got such a light fine,” wrote Piche.
– African News Agency (ANA)