'That is life,' survivor of Lion’s Head fall says with a laugh

2016-07-25 13:08
Rescuers packaged an unconscious Joao and flew him off Lion's Head. (Gesant Abed)

Rescuers packaged an unconscious Joao and flew him off Lion's Head. (Gesant Abed)

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Cape Town - Despite having fallen about 30m from Lion's Head in Cape Town a week ago, former Angolan child soldier Jose Maria Joao is full of life and has taken the accident in his stride.

As with previous hardships he has faced, his fighting spirit arguably aided his survival.

He had no apparent brain injury and was eager to jump out of his hospital bed and back into his active lifestyle when News24 visited him.

Joao, who has been moved from the trauma ward to the orthopaedic ward, escaped the fall with fractured bones, a broken tibia and damage to his vertebrae, a kidney and a lung.

"It's okay, it's fine. That is life. Life is life," he said in broken English on Friday afternoon, grinning and shrugging his shoulders beneath a flimsy gown.

His bulky mass seemed somewhat out of place in the hospital bed at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Captured as a teenager

READ: Former child soldier survives Lion’s Head fall

When the 42-year-old smiled, a healing gash next to one of his bloodshot eyes crinkled.

Four staples held together a wound above his forehead. He had four staples to match on the back of his skull. His right leg was in bandages.

Joao was captured as a teenager in Angola and forced to fight for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita). One day he escaped and ran for his life. He passed through Namibia and ended up in Cape Town.

He has become well acquainted with the city's mountains over the last 17 years.

"I didn't believe it," he said of the fall. "That place, many times, many times, lots of times, years up there. But just, I don't know… a small slip."

Joao recalled walking up the peak at 06:30 to see the sunrise.

Slipped on ladder

He rested at the top, drank water and enjoyed the view of the slowly-awakening city.

Wanting to go to gym, he started descending and bumped into a friend he had seen on the way up.

They chatted and Joao waited at one of the ladders to go down.

"He said cheers. Then I slipped on the ladder and forgot everything."

Reliving the fall, he said: "I was always taking myself like this,” putting his arms in front of his head and neck to show how he used his big muscles to protect himself.

Pain vibrated throughout his body. He remembered the helicopter trying to take him off the mountain.


"That's when I knew I had something wrong in my body," he said.

The realisation did not make him panic. "I was in pain but I was laughing."

Joao stretched his legs and wiggled his toes as he spoke. He sat upright and looked longingly towards the ward door.

"Today I tried to do exercise for standing and taking my legs up. Now I must train more."

At his bedside was a bunch of colourful flowers, bottled water, energy drinks, a toothbrush, fruit and snacks. Many of the items were brought by concerned friends.

Adam Whiteman, who has been his friend for seven years, popped in for a visit.

Fundraising campaign

He joked that the hospital complained he was receiving too many visitors and that it made the other people in the ward feel jealous.

Joao chuckled at the joke.

However, his popularity is nothing to laugh at. A fundraising campaign that Whiteman set up to help with various expenses has already resulted in over R128 000 in three days.

"I feel better, friends... [are] your family," he said of the support.

He hoped to be discharged later this week.

Read more on:    cape town  |  accidents

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