A train ploughed into a truck packed with farm workers at a level crossing in Mpumalanga on Friday, cutting it in half and killing at least 19 people who were on their way to pick fruit, police and emergency services said.
Police spokesman Joseph Mabusa said it appeared the truck driver had badly miscalculated when crossing the track, leaving his vehicle directly in the path of a freight train carrying coal to Mozambique. It was too early to say precisely what happened however, he added.
"It is a very gruesome scene. Some bodies are without heads and some without limbs. Forensic teams are still working on the scene,” said Mabusa.
The impact carried the truck 200 metres, dismembering the trucks' occupants, thus making it hard for forensic experts to say exactly how many people had been killed, he added.
"The driver was taken to hospital. His condition is unknown,” said Mabusa.
Emergency services said at least 24 people had been injured, some of them critically, in the accident near the town of Hectorspruit, about 400 km (248 miles) east of Johannesburg.
Paramedics had found the injured lying among the dead after the truck had been chopped in two by the impact, said emergency services spokesman Jeffrey Wicks.
Local media showed pictures of helicopters landing on the road - the main highway linking Johannesburg to neighbouring Mozambique - in order to airlift the injured to hospital.
State rail operator Transnet said the train was carrying coal for export to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, but that there was no derailment.
South Africa’s government has announced plans to spend billions of dollars on revamping the creaking rail network in the continent’s biggest economy. But human error is often to blame for the sporadic accidents that do occur. - Reuters