Easter weekend pilgrimage bus disaster

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Apr 9, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

On September 1, 2014, I wrote the following statement in Sheqafrica.com: “The Nigerian church slab collapse in September 2014 that killed 84 South African pilgrims, reminds us that safety is a human responsibility that cannot be delegated to God.”

For example, the five books of the Old Testament written by Moses include social and safety values, cultural codes and health codes including diet. The legal code of Babylonian King Hammurabi of 220 BC, prescribed punishment of overseers for injuries suffered by workers.

My friend and I were equally devastated after we watched a news bulletin of the 45 Botswana pilgrims who perished desolately on the South African meandering road. My friend asked me if I believed in reincarnation and if I did what would be my future career. I told him that I would pioneer “Pilgrimage Management” for faith-based organisations and government officials at South African universities where I would cover the following areas: pilgrimage planning and execution, dealing with leadership guilt and shame after a pilgrimage disaster, services to be provided by government during a pilgrimage, disaster risk reduction, religious tourism, international pilgrimage benchmarking, intergovernmental disaster management, Sendai Framework on risk reduction and peak transportation management system standard.

Many people are asking themselves infinite questions; they even singled out a question that prompted Philip Yancey to write a catchy title in 1998, “Where is God When it Hurts?” Why did the pilgrims die while on their way to the Holy City of Moria? Why was there no divine intervention or any prophetic foresight? Rabbi Heschel once said that we are closer to God when we are asking questions than we think we have got the answers. The relevant person to respond to the above questions is neither the president of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, nor the president of the Republic of Botswana, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, neither even Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga, nor the leader of the St Engenas ZCC, Dr Bishop Joseph Lekganyane, but Gertrude Stein: “There is no answer. There never has been an answer. There never will be an answer. That’s the answer.” During the grieving process some people even go to the extent of blaming God for their calamity. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist and a pioneer of thanatology, the study of death and dying, argues that no one must stop a grieving person from blaming God because in her view the Almighty is too great to kowtow to any criticism, He can take it.

In the first century, a large tower in Jerusalem fell, killing 18 people (Luke 13:4). There is no city in the world prayed for as much as Jerusalem. The Psalmist declares: “Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.” Yet the tower in Siloam fell and killed 18 people in Jerusalem. Pilgrims also perish on roads in other countries. Hammoudi (2005) described a scene in Mecca where buses packed beyond capacity, with travellers on the roofs, hanging off the steps and rear fenders, moved very slowly. The “Telegraph” reported in 2017 that six British pilgrims were killed while driving towards Medina, when their minibus crashed. The group had completed the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, a lesser version of the Hajj. Despite meticulous restrictions and management of the Hajj quotas, and continuously improved inter-modality, road traffic remains much riskier than rail and aviation. The “Hindustan Times” of India reported that some Kumbh Mela pilgrims were killed on the Agra-Mumbai highway when their vehicle collided with a truck. The “Times of India” in 2016 reported that six pilgrims were killed when their van collided with a government bus upon their return from the Velankanni Church in Nagapattinam district. A pilgrimage is a risky undertaking, for example, in 1990 there was a stampede in Mecca where 1 426 pilgrims were killed.

It must also be borne in mind that pilgrims who visit our country are also religious tourists who are creating jobs and growing our economy. The death of the 45 pilgrims was also a severe blow to the South African tourism industry. For example, Israel is an important religious tourism destination in the world. In 1960, Theodore Levitt, a Harvard professor wrote a classic article, “Marketing Myopia”. By marketing myopia, Levitt meant a near-sighted view of marketing in terms of goods or services provided rather than a broader view in terms of needs to be served. In his seminal article, he pointed out that the failure of railways to see themselves as being in the transportation business was the critical reason for their decline in importance. Had they seen themselves as being in the transportation business, they would have invested in other modes of transport. The concept could also be extended to political parties who have lost sight of serving people but indulge in ostentatious living.

Anyone who sweeps the stairs does it in a top-down manner and not the other way around, so the same applies to the empowerment of leaders who are in the grieving process. Imagine what happened at Mbombela Stadium when President Ramaphosa was told that the ANC members perished at Magoebaskloof before he delivered his address? These leaders should be professionally assisted when their members or citizens perish on the road. Leaders are also human beings; even Jesus Christ cried. They also go through the following five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They must be assisted professionally to deal with their shame and guilt when disasters happen beyond their control. May their souls rest in peace – let us not forgot all the road accident victims. As we celebrate 30 years of democracy, let us not forget also to commemorate 10 years of the Nigerian church slab collapse.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management.

The Star