'The water was gushing around us. I had to let him go' – dad recalls trying to save son

2019-04-09 07:32
Two-year-old Shaygan. (Facebook)

Two-year-old Shaygan. (Facebook)

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Letting go of his lifeless son, as water gushed around him in an underground sewerage system, was the hardest thing Damian Jantjies has ever had to do, the devastated young father said.

"I told him: 'I can't hold you any longer. I have to give you to God,'" he told News24 three days after little Shaygan, 2, drowned and washed out in a canal in Kleinvlei.

Jantjies finished work early on Friday and walked from his home in Greenfield, Blackheath to neighbouring Kleinvlei to collect the toddler to spend the weekend with him.

Read: Cape Town toddler falls into drain and dies

On their way home, they collected stones and tossed them into the canal as they walked. It was Shaygan's favourite thing to do, Jantjies, 22, recalled fondly.

"It was so nice to see him so happy. I took photos of him – he threw the pebbles as hard as he could," he said, smiling as he recalled that his little boy's hands were too small to hold as many stones as he had wanted to.

His son had laughed gleefully as his dad expertly tossed them into the water, causing the water to splash.

damian jantjies
One of the last photos Damian Jantjies took of his son Shaygan just before the two-year-old drowned in a drain in Blackheath. (Facebook)

Shaygan snacked on a packet of chips as his dad encouraged him to keep up alongside him as they made their way home.

He spotted an acquaintance, Bradwyn Kleyn, who was on his way to work. When he turned back to tell the little boy to "come", he saw the child fall into a grass-covered hole next to a closed drain.

He dropped his cellphone, removed his jacket and followed his son into the sewerage system.

"I shouted: 'Daddy’s coming, Shaygan'. My son shouted for me. But it was dark and there was water all around me. God pushed me towards him. I had him in my hands. I swallowed that filth because I needed to save him," Jantjies said.

He will never forget the sound of his son calling out to him that afternoon, the tearful father maintained.

Rocks in the system stopped Shaygan from being swept away and allowed him to catch up to the toddler, Jantjies told News24.

drain,damian jantjies

Photos Bradwyn Kleyn took at the scene of the hole next to the drain cover through which Shaygan had fallen. Jantjies had also entered through here to search for his child. (Supplied, Bradwyn Kleyn)

"When I reached him, he was lying on his back. I held him in the dark, but he was unresponsive. The water was gushing around us and I had to let him go. I never heard him again."

Jantjies' arms and stomach are covered in scabs and scratches from his efforts to save the boy.

Kleyn had called for help and found Jantjies after hearing him call for help.

A neighbour brought a spade to open a drain further upstream and hauled him out. Jantjies continued to call for his son, trying to hear the boy's voice so he knew where to go.

His little body washed out further up the canal and was found by a local child.

"He's a star now. God's angel. I don't know how this happened. I didn't ask for this," he said, weeping inconsolably.

"He couldn't fight. He didn't have the strength. I was with him."

His son looked like he was asleep, dressed in his tiny jeans and tracksuit top which read: "Awesome – Never Give Up". He was still wearing this when his dad went to identify his remains on Monday.

Kleyn and Jantjies had an emotional reunion on Monday.

"I am grateful you were there," Jantjies said, thanking Kleyn for helping him try and find his son on Friday.


A weeping Damian Jantjies with Bradwyn Kleyn, who tried to help him save his son. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Kleyn had made a voice recording while using his cellphone's light to help Jantjies see underground.

In the recording, Shaygan can be heard shouting: "Dadda."

"I can still hear him scream," Kleyn said. "But there was nothing [Jantjies] could have done."

Jantjies' Facebook wall was filled with photos of a laughing Shaygan. He had also posted photos he had taken of his child next to the canal, minutes before tragedy struck.

The family of the boy who found Shaygan were going through tough times, Jantjies said, and he would buy whatever he would have given to his son for this child, he maintained.

Shaygan's mother and Jantjies' partner of seven years, Simone Simon, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that she couldn't have asked for a better father for their child.

Jantjies believes his son was a tiny version of him, who liked everything his dad did.

"He loved selfies, cellphones and games. And things always had to be his way," he said, smiling through his tears.

A memorial service will be held at the VGK Church in Keerom Street, Kleinvlei on Wednesday night.

An inquest docket has been opened.

damian jantjies

Damian Jantjies and his son, Shaygan. (Facebook)

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