Young Kroonstad train tragedy heroes nominated for National Order

The story of two brave young Free State boys rescuing passengers during the recent Shosholoza Meyl train tragedy, has struck a chord with South Africans. The two have been nominated to receive official recognition for their bravery.

Young South African heroes Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez are lifelong friends who instinctively stepped up to help rescue passengers during the January 2018 Hennenman–Kroonstad train accident. (Image: eNCA YouTube)

CD Anderson

Following a recent interview on the actuality programme Carte Blanche with Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez, there has been growing support for the boys to receive the National Order of Mendi for Bravery. The two friends were among the first people to arrive at the accident scene and rescue victims of the Hennenman–Kroonstad train tragedy on 4 January 2018. The crash claimed the lives of 21 passengers, with more than 250 injured.

Evert is the son of farmer Willie du Preez, and Mokoni is the son of the  Du Preez farm’s foreman, Tshepo Chaka. The two have been lifelong friends on the Free State farm, with Evert’s mother describing the two 12-year-olds as “inseparable from a young age”.

This bond was exemplified in the frantic English-Afrikaans-Sesotho linguistic shorthand the two used when describing the accident in an on-the-scene interview with eNCA News. The interview turned them into a much-needed feelgood viral hit.

In the more recent Carte Blanche interview, the boys calmly describe – still in their fluid mix of languages – seeing the initial crash and instinctively joining adults in racing to the scene to help rescue efforts. The boys helped to move several small children and women through broken train windows and later helped by supplying water and food to survivors and rescue crew.

The story struck a chord with many South Africans, including Renier Schoeman, the commissioner for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. Closely following the story of the boys in the news, Schoeman, who was deputy minister of education from 1994 to 1996, promptly put their names forward for this year’s National Orders. Support for the nomination is growing on social media.

“I served in the first cabinet of President Nelson Mandela [in 1994],” Schoeman told Carte Blanche, “and I saw how committed he had been to not only the children of South Africa, but also the idea of reconciliation between South Africans.”

He believed that the strong bond of friendship between the two boys demonstrated that Madiba ideal and, vitally, inspired their shared act of bravery. The two, he said, should be recognised not only for their actions in the aftermath of the crash, but for also representing what South Africans could do together through friendship and understanding.

Evert told Carte Blanche that he and Mokoni were proud about what they had done. “We hope we have set an example for the people of South Africa to not only think about themselves, but also [about] the people next to them.”

Schoeman said bravery was always an act of instinct and selflessness. “These boys could have just walked away from the crisis, but together they decided to help… It is that sort of can-do and positive attitude that gives South Africans reasons to be optimistic about the future of the country.”

Watch the full Carte Blanche insert here.

Read more about the country’s National Order awards:

Source: eNCA, Carte Blanche

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