Beloved undertaker dies after freak boating accident on Vaal River

By Jana van der Merwe
01 November 2016

He died in the ambulance that was racing to get him to hospital.

Sunday saw an action-packed day of boating fun at the annual Dome Adventure Festival on the Vaal River in Parys, northern Free State.

When the teams were done competing in the popular Dragon boat races André Groenewald (44), director and owner of the well-known André Funeral Services in Parys, also took his boat out on the river.

But late afternoon events took a sad turn when Andre had a nasty freak accident, in full view of his wife Debbie, daughters Dedré (15) and Desiré (13) and a crowd of about 200 people.

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“André was turning the boat around when it happened,” recalls Johan Herbst, André’s brother-in-law and best friend. “I was getting the bakkie and trailer ready so we could load the boat. André wasn’t going fast but close to the bank the boat’s canopy hit a tree branch. One of the canopy poles struck his head with a loud bang.”

At this point, it’s suspected, Andre lost consciousness and fell on the boat’s accelerator. “The boat hit the bank at high speed,” Johan recalls the terrible moment.

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"André wasn’t killed instantly," explains Johan’s wife Marinda, who’s the sister of Debbie, known to her family affectionately as Debsie.

“Paramedics rushed him to the state hospital in Parys. He had a big gash in his head and had lost a lot of blood.”

He died in the ambulance later, while being transferred to the Mediclinic in Vereeniging.

"Debsie was with him when the paramedics broke the news,” Johan says. The ambulance then turned back to Parys.

According to Johan and Marinda, André had lived for his job. He was an undertaker for more than two decades and had his own business in the last eight years.

Andrebegraf2 André and his best friend, Johan. PHOTO: Supplied

Johan says this year alone he’d sponsored funerals to the tune of R70 000 for needy black people.

Colin Viljoen, a former colleague who’s helping out at André’s business for the time being, says his colleague was an exceptional person.

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“I’ve learnt so much from him,” he says. “He was very professional and widely respected. Things had to be done down to the last detail. Andre was involved in everything and signed off each funeral leaflet before it was sent for printing. He was a sincere person and had a lot of sympathy for people.”

Colin says André had the ability to be humorous and lift the spirits of the bereaved in dark times. Johan reiterated this. “He was able to laugh in times of distress and grief.”

He’ll be buried by his own firm of undertakers, who will fulfil last wishes like having Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler played at the ceremony.

“We want to honour him the way he’s honoured everyone he buried over the years,” Johan says. “A bright flame has gone out in Parys.”

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