45 Christians killed in bus crash on their way to Easter gathering

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

(CP) Political leaders throughout Africa are offering prayers and condolences after nearly four dozen Christians were killed en route to an annual Easter gathering.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement that 45 people lost their lives when a bus transporting them from Botswana to the city of Moria in the South African Province of Limpopo crashed while "traveling on the R518 road near Mokopane, Limpopo" Thursday.

The South Africa Department of Transport said in a statement on X Thursday that the bus was transporting 46 people, with all but one of them losing their lives.

"It is alleged that the driver lost control, colliding with barriers on the bridge causing the bus to go over the bridge and hitting the ground, where it caught fire," the department noted. South Africa Minister of Transport, Sindisiwe Chikunga, expressed her "heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the tragic bus crash," adding, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time."

A statement released by the Limpopo Department of Transport and Community Safety elaborated on the impact of the crash, identifying the lone survivor as an 8-year-old girl, noting that "some bodies were burned beyond recognition, others trapped inside the debris and others scattered on the scene." The bus fell 50 meters, equivalent to 164 feet, off a bridge before catching on fire.

The Easter weekend church service the passengers were traveling to is the "largest Christian gathering in the country during Easter," according to the South African publication The Daily Vox. The event is held at Zion City Moria, which is the seat of the Africa-based Zion Christian Church. According to the news outlet, "Rough calculations estimate that between 3 million and 5 million pilgrims visit Moria for the Easter pilgrimage."

The Botswana Democratic Party released a statement on behalf of Mokgweetsi E.K. Maswisi, the president of Botswana and party leader, offering "deepest condolences to the [Zion Christian Church] members and their families affected by the heartbreaking bus accident."

The South African Police Service INTERPOL National Central Bureau office confirmed Friday that all the passengers on the bus were citizens of Botswana.

The police agency also reported that as of Friday, bodies belonging to 34 of the 46 passengers had been recovered, but only nine were identifiable. The 8-year-old girl who survived the accident is receiving treatment for her injuries at a hospital.

Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha released a statement vowing to "prioritize safety and responsible driving practices to prevent such devastating accidents from occurring in the future." He maintained that "Limpopo's scenic routes should be pathways of joy and connection, not sites of tragedy and loss."

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims, both in Botswana and South Africa, as they navigate through this unimaginable loss and grief," he added. "I extend my deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies to all those affected by this tragedy. May they find strength, comfort, and solace in this difficult time."

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