The tragic story  behind the  bridge disaster

The tragic story behind the bridge disaster

MASERU – YOU have come here to ‘rub salt onto my wound’.
That is what a grieving mother told thepost reporters when they visited her home in Sekhutlong Ha-’Manapo.
’Malebohang Koloko has lost count of the times friends and relatives, from near and far, have come to her home expecting that she would narrate in detail how her son died.
But that traditional Sesotho custom in which the bereaved take time to explain to mourners how their relative died has been a tortuous exercise.
“It is like ripping apart a fresh wound in my soul,” she says.

When thepost visited the family home last week, we were received by the sharp cries of a baby.
A young woman probably in her early twenties welcomed us into the house. A total sense of sorrow and helplessness enveloped the home.
It was clear from the looks of those inside the house that the sudden loss of their beloved one had not been well received.
Death had violently snatched one of their own.

At first, the five women who were seated in the bedroom were hesitant to talk until an elderly woman of the family living a few meters from the house was called to come and speak on behalf of the family.
When she arrived she immediately went into one of the rooms to console some women who were quietly sobbing.
After a few minutes, the women trooped into the kitchen where we were. The grief stricken ’Mabokang sits down facing the opposite direction and stares blankly into the open space, her mind clearly miles away.
“I would like to make it clear before we go any further that your coming here and reporting about my son’s death is going to open up healing wounds,” says ’Malebohang, the mother of the deceased worker, Lebohang.

It is a Sesotho custom for a member of the deceased’s family to sit in a house of a relative so that they tell visitors how the family member died.
Basotho say by so doing oa tšelisa, he will comfort the mourners who would have come to mourn together with the bereaved family.
But to ’Malebohang, whose son met his untimely death earlier this month when a trench he was digging slid and fell on him during the construction of a bridge, the tšelisa tradition must be the other way round.

The visitors should comfort the bereaved.
For ’Malebohang, continually narrating how Lebohang died to everybody who comes to the house brings no change – he remains dead.
Her son Lebohang was one of the 13 men who were building a bridge when the wall of a trench they were digging slid and buried him alive.
The colleagues dug him out but unfortunately he had already died.
One of the fellow workers sustained a broken arm as he tried to save him from the falling mud.
The death shook the Koloko family.

For ’Mabokang Koloko, Lebohang’s wife, who has been left with a six-month old baby, the death of her husband came as a big blow.
She still finds it quite difficult to talk.

“I really don’t have much to say, the idea of talking about this still hurts a lot,” laments the twenty two — year-old widow.
She still finds it difficult to come to terms with the mere thought of Lebohang being crushed by the sand, the soil suffocating him and killing him instantly.
’Mabokang and Lebohang had only been married for a year and a couple of months.
They have a six-month old baby. He was the only bread winner in the family.

’Malebohang said the construction company his son was working for at the time of his death, Tiro Construction, had pledged to assist with the burial arrangements.
’Malebohang said the company had also been helping a lot with the funeral arrangements even though the burial date has not yet been confirmed.
“They even bought maize-meal and a sheep that was slaughtered to perform a small traditional ceremony (ho orosa which Basotho believe is meant to take the spirit of the dead from the site of death to his home),” ’Malebohang said.

“The meat was eaten by my son’s co-workers there at the place of death and none of it was brought home,” she said.
Tiro Contractors has also paid the wife her husband’s full salary for the month and has promised to further assist the family with a monthly allowance to sustain the widow until her mourning period ends.

Normally the mourning period for Basotho widows lasts about six months or more.
‘Malebohang also said the company had promised to secure a job for her daughter-in-law after her mourning ends.
“We are very grateful to Tiro’s efforts to help the family out”, said ’Malisebo Koloko, another family member.

Tokase Mphutlane and Matšeliso Sehloho

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