Mother, 3 children die in track suicide

Mail & Guardian Online suicide
Dec 12 2000 
OWN CORRESPONDENT, Cape Town | Tuesday

A MOTHER with a child on her back and two toddlers in her arms stood on the tracks in front of an oncoming train – and when the five-year-old child tried to scurry away, she pulled him back before the family was pulverised under the train’s wheels, Die Burger newspaper reported. The seriously traumatised train driver looked on helplessly as Pumla Lolwana (35), from the Samora Machel squatter camp, and her three children, Lindani (2), Andile (3) and Sesanda (5), died on the railway line between Philippi and Nyanga on the Cape Flats on Friday afternoon.

By Monday night nobody had claimed the bodies of the mother and her three children from the Salt River mortuary. The reason for her suicide, barely two weeks before Christmas, still remains a mystery. Metro Rail confirmed to Die Burger that Lolwana apparently committed suicide. “The train driver is receiving counselling. He is extremely traumatised, because he saw the drama play out in front of him and wasn’t able to stop the train in time,” Metro Rail representative Daphne Kayster said.

An industrial social worker who works with train drivers told Die Burger that many people use suicide in front of oncoming suburban trains as their “way out” when personal problems get too much. Statistics published at the beginning of this month indicate that approximately 400 people die on the train tracks between Cape Town and Khayelitsha every year. According to an eyewitness, one of the children managed to escape from his mother’s arms. However, she pulled him back and held tightly on to him while the train sped closer. She made no attempt to get away or save her children.

Jaqueline van Rensburg, industrial social worker, who treats up to 15 train drivers a month after accidents, told Die Burger that the drivers work under extremely difficult circumstances and feel guilty whenever anybody dies under their train. “The drivers feel very guilty because they have absolutely no control over the train. A train needs up to 300m to come to a stop. They can’t swerve. They very much want to prevent the accident, but they are powerless. … Some of the train drivers whom I have spoken to say they always wonder about the victims’ families and put themselves in that person’s shoes. In the long term, these incidents have a negative impact on train drivers.”

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