‘I can’t go back in the water’

2012-02-18 18:17

Port St John’s lifeguard Nqobile Jojo grew up loving the ocean and turned his ability as a swimmer into a way to earn his living.

But, after watching 25-year-old Ngidi Msungubana die in the jaws of a shark – the sixth fatal attack at the town’s Second Beach since 2007 – Jojo says he won’t go back into the water.

Msungubana died on January 15, exactly a year after up-and-coming surfer Zama Ndamase was attacked and killed at the same beach.

In 2009 there were three fatal attacks at the same beach, claiming the lives of Tshintsekile Nduva, Sikhanyiso Bangalizwe and Luyolo Mangele.

In 2007, Siyabulela Masiza, who survived being bitten on his calf by a shark in 2004, was taken by a shark.
Neither his body nor Nduva’s were ever recovered.

All six youngsters were from Port St John’s. Four were lifesavers and two were surfers.

Its grim tally of fatal shark attacks, particularly in the last five years, makes Second Beach one of the most dangerous in the world.

“I can’t do it any more,’’ Jojo, who has worked as a lifeguard in Knysna and other towns, told City Press. “This is my life and my passion but I can’t go back in the water.’’

Jojo, who was among the lifesavers who attempted to rescue Msungubana, says the attack – the second he has witnessed or been involved in – will haunt him for the rest of his life.

“I was watching from the beach and I saw the water turning red around him. I blew my whistle and ran into the water to get the other people out. His board was floating and I grabbed it and tried to pull him onto it.

“We were in very shallow water – he was about waist deep when the shark took him. We got him out of the water. Then later I started shaking. I realised it could have been me. I’m flesh and bone like he was.”

Jojo, whose home in Mthumbane village near Second Beach overlooks the ocean, said: “When I look at the sea I see the people screaming, I see the blood. I grew up in sea here but there’s no way I’m going back into the water there.’’

Neither he nor any of the other 34 lifeguards working at the beach have received trauma counselling.

Jojo is trying to find another job, but with a local economy dependent on festive season tourism – the cold weather means there is no June season – there aren’t many alternatives. Locals not involved in tourism eke out a living selling illegally harvested seafood or ganja.

“What choice do we have?’’ asked another lifeguard who preferred not to be identified. “If we don’t work at the beach, it’s sit at home, steal crayfish or sell zol. There are no jobs here.’’

Nonceba Madikizela, Port St John’s local municipality spokesperson, told City Press the council was working with the provincial and national government to try and understand why the attacks were happening.

She said it was impossible to install shark nets because of “environmental concerns” and the high cost involved.

‘We are doing our best to educate people about the dangers of the beach and to discourage them from swimming.”

There were also plans afoot to turn the beach into a tidal pool, she said.

And Madikizela said the municipality was trying to get support from the provincial government to provide counselling for lifeguards at Second Beach.

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