It was indeed a befitting farewell for the 32 innocent young souls, along with teachers and driver, who perished in last Saturday’s fatal crash involving a school minibus in the Marera-Rhotia area of Karatu district.
Arusha residents filled the Sheikh Amri Abeid Memorial Stadium in droves to bid them a final goodbye, literally turning the 40-year old stadium into a sea of people. Not even the popular duels between the country’s biggest soccer archrivals Simba and Yanga have ever drawn such huge crowds to the stadium.
A mid-morning drizzle of rain could not dampen the spirit of the occasion as the crowd patiently waited for the arrival of the caskets bearing the remains of the 32 primary school pupils, two teachers and bus driver killed in the accident, one of the worst road tragedies in the nation’s history.
The normally busy Col. Middleton Road was abnormally crammed with people trying to get into the 12,000-capacity stadium, and even after police and TPDF soldiers forcibly closed the two main gates, they still kept coming. Some chose to climb over the stadium’s long perimeter wall, while others opted to scale the tall overlooking buildings, simply to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside.
And the mood inside the stadium was deeply somber, punctuated by unending wails and screams. Those who couldn’t hold back their grief had to be carried away on stretchers by volunteers from the Tanzania Red Cross Society and Tanzania Scouts Association.
One paramedic vehicle after the other could be seen leaving the stadium carrying mourners who had fainted, rushing them to nearby hospitals for medical treatment.
The wails grew even louder when four military vehicles carrying the 35 caskets drove onto the stadium’s running track. The crowd now became almost inconsolable, shoving and pushing each other in a bid to see the caskets.
Cabinet ministers, interfaith leaders and foreign dignitaries in attendance appeared quite taken aback by what they were seeing.
VP SAMIA CONDOLES WITH THE BEREAVED FAMILIES
In her message of condolences, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan expressed deep sympathy with the bereaved families and called for calm as the nation mourned the huge loss.
The VP denounced reckless driving in general, calling on responsible authorities to erect more road signs warning drivers of known black spots.
“Road signs are imperative to prevent such tragedies…drivers also need to ensure that they adhere to required passenger capacity specifications,” Samia asserted.
She also acknowledged the important role played by members of The Steam Doctors group from Minnesota in the United States in rescuing the injured and retrieving bodies of the dead from the scene of Saturday’s accident.
CCM secretary general Abdulrahman Kinana - making his first public appearance since returning from a recent overseas trip for medical treatment - said the ruling party was also touched by the tragedy and would stand side-by-side with the bereaved families “as they strive to come to terms with the losses of their loved ones”.
Hai member of parliament Freeman Mbowe, who is Leader of the Official Opposition in the National Assembly, described yesterday’s public mourning event as a litmus test for the solidarity of Tanzanians.
“God has presented us with this situation to see how united we are,” Mbowe said.
The Minister for Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training, Joyce Ndalichako, said the tragedy had robbed Tanzanians of future potential leaders who could have helped steered the country towards the right direction.
“It is sad to hear how they died. Their parents loved them enough to heavily invest in their education,” eulogised the minister.
Her Kenyan counterpart, Fred Matiang'i, was also present and said the tragedy should serve as a reminder across the region of the importance of boosting the safety of schoolchildren, including the modes of transport they use.
“This incident has caused us great concern because we have lost potentially very important people in society,” Matiang’i said.
East African Community (EAC) deputy secretary general in charge of productive and social sectors, Christophe Bazivamo, said in his condolence message that the regional bloc also felt the pain.
The EAC donated 3 million/- to the bereaved families, while the National Assembly donated 100 million/- after MPs resolved to forfeit their allowances for the day for the cause.
According to Arusha regional commissioner Mrisho Gambo, the MPs contributed 86 million/- and the Speaker’s Office the remaining 14 million/-.