Plucked to safety

2020-01-17 15:25
A rescue worker reaches Sphelele Dlamini (23), who was pushed to his death off a cliff in Wartburg.

A rescue worker reaches Sphelele Dlamini (23), who was pushed to his death off a cliff in Wartburg.

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A cattle herder miraculously survived after being pushed over a cliff near Wartburg.

Sphelele Dlamini (23) had been held at knifepoint and beaten with the handle of a panga by armed men who accused him of having stolen a cow and told him no one would care about him if they killed him.

Dlamini’s shocking revelations mean police will be investigating a case of attempted murder, after it was initially believed he had slipped while herding cattle in the Swayimane area on Wednesday.

A helicopter was deployed as members of the SAPS search and rescue team, paramedics and 15 Squadron from the Durban air force carried out an intensive operation to rescue Dlamini from 50 metres down the cliff face.

He had been stranded on a ledge that was so narrow that only one rescue worker could go down to fetch him.

Dlamini is recovering in hospital and has no feeling in his legs, while doctors await test results to confirm whether he will be paralysed from the waist down.

He lives in Swayimane with his mother.

Rescue personnel who saved Sphelele Dlamini’s life on Wednesday, (front row, from left) Jack Greeff of Grinrod Academy, Life care manager Leon Fourie, Brad Hatfield of SC Durban North fire department, Warrant Officer Fred Brand of PMB police search and rescue, rescue co-ordinator Keanan Reynolds and search and rescue’s Sergeant Nolan Wallace. At the back is SAPS search and rescue’s Constable Jesse Maré. 

A traumatised Dlamini told The Witness he was accosted by three men, two of them armed, who attacked him with the butt of a panga, hitting him mainly along his spine and lower back.

He believes the men are relatives of the people he herds cattle for.

He denies having stolen the cow.

“After beating me up, they laid me down flat on the ground and put a knife to my neck and asked me to tell the truth about the cow. I pleaded for my life and asked if I could go out and look for the missing cow, as I normally would when a cow is missing.

“They continued to beat me up and when I tried to run away they grabbed me and punched me on my face and one guy kicked me on my back.”

Dlamini said the men told him he was “useless” and no one would care whether he died because he had no children to leave behind.

“They said whether I die or not, nobody will cry for me anyway,” he said, his voice trembling.

In the fracas he lost his balance and went tumbling down an incline. He tried reaching for rocks but he couldn’t stop, and eventually fell over the cliff.

“If it wasn’t for the large grass shrub that I landed on, I would have gone down further and died.”

Police sources said Dlamini’s cries for help alerted nearby people to call the police.

Rescuers had initially dropped a rope to abseil down and fetch Dlamini, but found the rocks along the cliff to be too sharp. The air force was then called in to assist, and they lowered a rescue worker to Dlamini’s position, a harness was placed around him and he was taken to the top of the cliff to be stabilised.

He was then flown to hospital.

The air force’s 15 Squadron is only called in during operations to save people who are still alive.

Rescuers spent hours assessing the scene and trying to rescue Dlamini, who fell down the cliff-face on Wednesday morning but was only picked up that night. “He fell a massive drop, and how he’s still alive is a miracle,” one rescuer told The Witness.

“This rescue seemed impossible but it was done through teamwork. Ninety-nine percent of the work rescuers do is to get dead bodies, but to get to a scene like this one where death seemed certain and for us to rescue [a person who is still alive] is a true success story.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  rescue operations

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