Death by drowning - a parent’s nightmare

2017-01-25 06:01

A YOUNG work colleague, Minenhle Mncwango, from Jozini, lost a friend who drowned in the Msunduzi River in Pietermaritzburg recently, and broke my heart when he told me the story.

I grieved as I thought of the parents, relatives, friends and associates of Mncwango’s friend whom he had asked to take care of his rented room in Edendale in the December holidays.

Mncango mourned that his friend was a competent swimmer, who had visited a relative and they had gone fishing, but when this chap decided to go for a swim, he did not come back alive.

I have seen documentaries that follow tales of how planes and ships have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle – a spot that is notorious for people vanishing without trace.

As a parent, who has two adventurous daughters, who are passionate swimmers, I was very moved by Mncwango’s story.

I remember how I became restless and worried when my eldest daughter put a profile picture on What’sApp as she, her uncle and a group of friends paddled in a river with a strong current somewhere in the Orange Free State in the December holidays.

I noticed how the tube they were paddling in capsized and they had to swim to get back to it.

Of course the company that leases the tubes made them sign a form in which they had to attest that they were braving the troubled river water at their own risk. In other words, I could have lost my daughter too if she had to drown while “having fun”.

My last born has been through her encounters with a Christian camp group and I was worried when she told me how they swam in a dam that I never got to see.

It is difficult to be a parent because you work hard to raise your children and they can be taken away from you by accident in a twinkling of an eye. I am sure my parents felt the same each time a boy drowned in our favourite river pool at Ngquzaphola in Edendale - the same Msunduzi River that claimed Mncwango’s friend recently.

As a disabled child, I know my mother would have had an epileptic feat if she saw me swimming at Ngquzaphola (a river pool that cools bums). I actually swam with the best like the late Sipho “Qubalala” Ntombela and the deeper the river, the more comfortable I became.

We had a great time at Ngquzaphola, yet that pool was notorious for drowning children and a big snake was believed to be present.

I do not remember seeing a single person drowning when I was around, but I was aware of youngsters who reportedly went missing under the water at Ngquzaphola.

I remember that before entering Ngquzaphola, we would throw stones in the river and make polite noises, pleading with dangerous animals that live under the water.

We would shout at top of our voice: “Leave your world for now, great ones, your dogs want to come in. We will leave soon enough, there is ample time in a day.” (“Phumani Makhosi, kungene izinja zenu, sobuye sinidedele, isikhathi sisesiningi.”)

I could have easily disappeared under the water and come out dead like many of those children who enjoyed themselves in river pools, but it did not happen.

Yet again, ordinary swimming pools are not safe places either because each summer holiday a parent must regret that their child left home to enjoy themselves in some pool or beach with his or her friends and drowned.

I did not realise it was such a hard thing to be a parent because you never know if your child is going to come back home alive.

Parents are amazing people – they put up with a lot, including worrying when their children go to have fun – something as basic as swimming in the river, dam, sea, or ordinary “safe” swimming pool.

How does it feel to see your child drowning in your unprotected pool at home?

I feel for the parents of Mncwango’s friend – the death of their son left a tear in my heart – one that only a caring parent can understand.

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity.

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