A community hall was filled to capacity while images of the deceased children were on display when 18 children were remembered yesterday.
They were burned to death in a horrific accident near Bronkhorstspruit over a week ago.
A sombre atmosphere prevailed at the Sokhulumi multipurpose centre yesterday as pupils dressed in uniform wept for their fellow schoolmates while community members sang hymns and prayed for the families.
“Death has robbed us of our loved ones. Death, like a true criminal, has stolen those that we love dearly,” Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi said.
The memorial service, hosted in partnership with the department of basic education and the Mpumalanga and Gauteng education departments, came after DNA results confirmed the identities of the deceased children on Tuesday afternoon.
“Today will be another painful day for the families as we will sign off all the DNA test results and hand them over to the families. This will bring back the pain that occurred on that black Friday. For the families, we have done everything possible,” said Lesufi.
Twenty people were killed on April 21 when the taxi they were travelling in collided with a truck and burst into flames, leaving the passengers trapped inside on the R25 in Verena. The children were from Refano Primary School and Mahlenga High School.
The taxi driver was laid to rest at the weekend.
“We extended a hand of peace to the family of the driver and requested them to join this memorial service and the funerals of all the pupils this Saturday, because we are not here to judge any other person but to treat all families equally,” Lesufi continued.
Four of the seven injured pupils have been discharged from hospital and the department will continue to provide financial support for medical costs, Lesufi said.
The horrific accident prompted government to take measures to ensure the safety of school children in the poverty-stricken communities, with Lesufi promising a refurbishment of the scholar transport system.
“On April 21 next year we will unveil a tombstone at the entrances of these two schools as a reminder of what happened. The two tombstones will carry the names of the deceased so we can remember them forever,” he said.
A mass funeral will be held for 16 pupils and a staff member of Refano Primary School on Saturday. One will be buried in KwaZulu-Natal and another will be laid to rest in Limpopo.
“The funeral costs, including the support to families, have been covered by government, businesses and people who felt the trauma of having to deal with this tragedy was not for the families alone,” said Lesufi.