Former child soldier survives Lion’s Head fall

Cape Town – Jose Maria Joao, a former Angolan child soldier who is a familiar face to many in Cape Town, fell off a ledge while going for his morning run on Lion’s Head this week.

He is believed to have fallen between 20 and 30 metres early on Monday morning, hitting his head on the way down.

Rescuers found him unconscious and seriously injured. He was secured to a harness and flown off the difficult-to-access tourist attraction.

In what could only be described as miraculous, a "spirited" Joao was moved out of the trauma ward on Thursday. He had no signs of head injury.

He escaped with fractured bones, a broken tibia, and damage to his vertebrae, kidney and lung. He was in the orthopaedic ward at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Joao, 42, was well known to those who frequented Lion’s Head, the local boxing gym, and the Tamboerskloof bar and bistro, The Power and the Glory.

A wide smile always offset his bulky physique. 

"It was a fall that would kill most of us," said eatery owner Adam Whiteman, who had known Joao for seven years and considered him family.

But Joao was not most people. He was captured as a teenager in Angola and forced to fight for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).


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

'I want everyone to be happy'

One day he escaped and ran for his life. He passed through Namibia and ended up in Cape Town.

In an interview with CCTV, he shared how he advocated for peace and used exercise to quieten his mind.

"My life started with violence, but it is not my feeling. I want everyone to be happy, to protect them," he said.

A familiar presence in the security industry, Joao often accompanied hikers and joggers on Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, for safety reasons.

Whiteman said Joao remembered falling.

"It is the worst thing in the world for him. He lives to run, to be outdoors and to go to gym."

After the news broke, Whiteman was inundated with a "phenomenal" outpouring of love and concern from around the world.

Joao has no relatives in Cape Town. His sister in Angola had apparently been informed of the accident.

Supporters flooded social media this week with offers to help pay his medical costs and rent.

Whiteman has since set up a formal fundraising campaign for Joao. 

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