Search ends in tragedy as body of one ranger retrieved

2012-06-26 00:00

THREE days of intensive searching ended in tragedy when the body of one of the two missing rangers from northern KwaZulu-Natal was retrieved from the murky waters of a Zululand lake yesterday.

Today, the man’s family will have the grim task of identifying his body.

Authorities have declined to reveal if the remains are those of Mbazwani Mhlongo (57) or his colleague Phumlani Mthembu (34), who both disappeared around midday on Friday, while paddling a confiscated dugout canoe on Lake Nhlabane.

What is almost certain is that a second body will be found today in the vicinity of the capsized craft, not far from the shore where the pair had launched, bringing a tragic end to the search.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo said the body was found intact, while two shotguns, which the rangers had been carrying, were also recovered.

A gill net, which the men, along with two other colleagues, had confiscated during their patrol, was among further items brought to the surface.

“It looks like they drowned,” said Mntam­bo, while ruling out foul play. Poaching and illegal fishing is rife in Zululand’s reserves, where the terrain is often inaccessible. According to a University of Zululand zoology research paper, the Nhla­bane coastal lake system is one of four freshwater coastal lakes near Richards Bay. It is found in the dune area mined by Richards Bay Minerals.

Mntambo said further searching was called off after conditions in the water worsened with the recovery of the body. Visibility beneath the surface was hampered by silt and thick beds of weed.

Police divers will pick up in the same spot this morning, said Lieutenant Jack Haskins, of the Pietermaritzburg K9 Search and Rescue unit.

Haskins said a police helicopter spotted the canoe, a marker was placed on top of the vessel and a diver dropped in.

The body was found a metre from the canoe. “It was in the vicinity of where my dog had indicated [a positive detection of a body] on Saturday, but the conditions weren’t good then.”

Haskins agreed with Mntambo that the tragedy appeared purely accidental, saying the canoe showed no signs of being attacked by hippos or crocodiles which infest the region’s inland waters.

Earlier in the day, the names of both missing men were released. In a statement, Ezemvelo said Mhlongo had been at Enseleni Nature Reserve, near Empangeni, since joining the provincial conservation body in 1976. A champion of conservation, Mhlongo was named Best Field Ranger last year by Ezemvelo. He is married with six children. Mthembu, who joined Ezemvelo in 1995, was recently transferred from Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park to Enseleni. He has one son.


Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.