Picking up the pieces after tragedy

Phumza Caga lost her husband and three children in a car crash.

How does a woman carry on with her life after losing her husband and three children – all at once in a horrific car crash?

Such a traumatic ordeal is enough to send anyone on a downward spiral but Phumza Caga is slowly picking up the pieces of her life after having gone through this painful experience.

Around the Easter weekend last year Ms Caga saw her life crumbling in front of her eyes after a devastating crash claimed the lives of her husband Sergeant Mandlenkosi Caga, 43, and their three children Hlumelo, 7, Ahlumile, 4, and Sisipho, 12. Sergeant Caga’s brother, Malibongwe, 45, also died (“Officer from the ’Plain dies in horror crash”, Plainsman, April 11 2018).

Ms Caga and her daughter Bongiwe, then 16, survived the crash.

Sergeant Caga was a court orderly at Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court, off duty and travelling with his family from his family home in Mdantsane in East London to Cape Town when the crash happened outside Grahamstown on Monday April 2, Family Day after the vehicle veered out of control and overturned on the N2.

Sergeant Caga and the three children died instantly while Ms Caga and Bongiwe were the only survivors. They were rushed to hospital with serious injuries.

Recalling the incident, Ms Caga says she woke up lying on the side of the road, to the horror of paramedics who were convinced she was dead.

“When I lifted my head I overheard them saying that ‘oh she is still alive’. But at that stage I was still in deep pain and was taken to an ambulance and rushed to hospital,” she says.

She says there was excitement when she and her husband together with their four children left on their holiday. Little did they know that death was awaiting on the stretch of road between Makhanda and King William’s Town.

On the trip they often made some stops in various towns along the N2, either to freshen up or get some light meals.

“It was a good trip all along. We were looking forward to spending the Easter weekend with my in-laws,” she says.

A year after the tragic incident, Ms Caga is grateful to be alive but says the devastation of losing her family at once is a wound that will take time to heal.

“My heart is still bleeding for my husband and children. They meant everything to me. I wake up every day and try to be brave for my remaining daughter but it is extremely hard,” she says.

Bongiwe is now limping as a result of the accident.

The tragedy came at a time when things were looking up for Ms Caga and her husband. After staying in Kuyasa township since coming to Cape Town, they had just bought a house in the suburb of Strandfontein.

“We had big plans about ensuring that our children get the best education. We wanted them to grow up in a happy home,” she said dejectedly.

The house has remained “empty” since the ordeal and no longer has the warmth it used to enjoy. Ms Caga says it is difficult for her teenage daughter to accept that her dad and siblings are no more.

“But I have to be strong for her sake. I am the only parent she has now,” she says.

There are times when she wakes up hoping to hear the noises usually made by her children, but each time deafening silence greets her.

Ms Caga, who is a nurse at Somerset Hospital, says her job keeps her sane.

“When I am at work, my main focus is healing all those patients I come across. For a while I forget about my situation,” she says.

She is also grateful for the constant support she receives from her family, friends and colleagues.