A tree to remember little Ester
A TREE TO REMEMBER: Ester Kalenga's parents John and Fannie bed in the waterberry tree planted in memory of a little girl slaughtered by a taxi driver. Image: KATHY MALHERBE
Author: KATHY MALHERBE
CAPE TOWN - John Kalenga and his wife Fannie and their two surviving children Doel and Dode cried as they planted a tree on Ysterplaat Primary School playing field in memory of their little girl and sister.
It was a ceremony so raw with emotion that the small gathering was left with a feeling of deep, deep sadness for the family and a sense of utter futility after the stupid, selfish driving of a taxi driver who killed 11-year-old Ester at a school road crossing on Koeberg Road.
MEC for Transport in the Western Cape, Robin Carlisle, who helped the family to plant the waterberry tree, continues to appeal to drivers to slow down and be particularly cautious in built-up areas and, particularly, near schools.
BRAVE BIG SISTER
But it is too late for Ester, killed by a speeding taxi whose driver failed to acknowledge the children were crossing in front of him.
Ester, a Grade 4 pupil at Ysterplaat Primary, had no chance of survival as the taxi overtook other traffic waiting at the crossing on Koeberg Road but she was brave enough to let go of her little sister as the taxi bore down on them.
The traffic marshal had signalled for the girls to cross and Ester, clutching her little sister’s hand, thought they were safe. The marshal risked injury as he pulled the younger girl back.
The death toll could so easily have been two.
There are nine-million drivers in South Africa, 10 857 traffic collisions and other events causing 13 800 deaths (some say the toll is actually closer to 20 000) a year – half of them pedestrians such as little Ester.
BETTER DRIVING TEST NEEDED
AA spokesperson Gary Ronald said the current K53 driving test – called “a joke” in a recent article on Wheels24 - did not create good drivers, reduce reckless driving or teach defensive driving.
Ranthoko Rakgoale, head of the Road Traffic Management Corporation, told parliament recently that a new driving test was needed to reduce South Africa’s devastating rate of road fatalities.
Ester’s father John Kalenga arrived in South Africa in 2007 from Congo. He urged the ANC government to do something for the school before more children were killed. He has a degree in international relations but cannot find work in South Africa in his specialised field. He survives on “odd jobs”.
“I don’t want anybody else to feel the pain we are feeling,” he said at the school memorial event. Despite breaking down repeatedly during the tree-planting he still thanked the community for what it had, and was still, doing. “I have amazing friends.”
He was particularly puzzled by the actions of killer taxi driver. A crossing warden was on duty, it was a pedestrian crossing – how could the cowardly driver have ignored what happened – he didn’t even stop after hitting Ester – another crime under South African law? Neither could Kalenga understand why the driver was free on bail of just over R1000 and, worse, still be driving after killing a child.
FLOWERS - AND FOOD
Not only was it an unnecessary tragedy but when Marisa Meyer, a teacher at Ysterplaat Primary, shared the story with Kieno Kammies on 567 Cape Talk, listeners learned that the family was unable to afford funeral costs and could barely able to afford food and clothing.
The story touched the hearts of the radio station’s listeners. Pick ‘n Pay immediately promised groceries for the family for a year. A florist donated flowers for the funeral in May 2013 and Nick Stodel, managing director of Stodel’s Nurseries, met Ester’s parents at the school to hand over a R5000 cheque as well as clothing collected by his customers and staff .
He also supplied the waterberry tree planted in the school grounds in memory of “a friendly, helpful and smart little girl” - a long-lived memorial to honour her cut-short life. The tree is wind-resistant, will grow to about 10m high and has edible berries to attract birds.
Stodel said: “The story of Ester really touched our hearts and we hope in some small way we can relieve some of the financial burden facing the family. It won’t bring Ester back but there will be a tree to commemorate her life.
“I hope this drive will raise more awareness about the totally unacceptable death statistics caused by reckless driving.”
Sadly, despite the tragedy, taxis continue to speed along Cape Town’s busy Koeberg Road. The school has been appealing for traffic lights and speed humps outside the school for 10 years. School principal Johan Kruger said he hoped a proper pedestrian crossing would be installed soon to avert more such tragedies. He also made special mention of the overwhelming support from the community.
“This is a poor community,” he said, “yet it came together to offer whatever support and help it could.”
Carlisle says the tragic killing came at a time when the department’s focus was on “better control of public transport and driving and the focus on accidents involving pedestrians”.
He added that he would “use his powers of persuasion” to ensure that a pedestrian crossing was supplied.
Koeberg Road, a dual-carriageway, was extremely dangerous, traffic moved too fast and there were far too many drunk drivers on the road.
If you feel you can help the Kalenga family contact Marisa Meyer at Ysterplaat Primary School on 082 828 7764 or 021 511 1493 or call John Kalenga directly on 079 781 4625.
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