'You have to take time to learn how the sea works' - Cape Town lifeguard on what it takes to save lives

2020-01-19 08:19
Sonwabo Magqazolo (centre) with seasonal beach lifeguards Iain Flower and Seth Meyer (Luthando Tyhalibongo/ City of Cape Town)

Sonwabo Magqazolo (centre) with seasonal beach lifeguards Iain Flower and Seth Meyer (Luthando Tyhalibongo/ City of Cape Town)

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City of Cape Town lifeguard Sonwabo Magqazolo has had a busy summer season as he and his colleagues ran to the rescue in 51 drowning incidents - some of them large groups of people in distress. 

With the sun shining and in a holiday mood, people often walk to the beach closest to them to relax and frolic in the waves. 

But as Magqazolo and his fellow rescuers know, these beaches are not always swimming beaches, and it is easy for bathers to get into trouble.

Over the past festive season, 13 people drowned in the sea and one in a swimming pool in Langa, according to the City.

In one incident in Clovelly on Reconciliation Day, six members of a Goodwood family were caught in a rip current. 

Terrifyingly strong currents

These terrifyingly strong currents pull bathers out to sea, and while they are being dragged, there is little they can do to fight them until they are released at the backline. 

The whole group was brought to safety with the help of bystanders and a surfer, with the City quoting one of the rescued, Raygaan Jantjies, as thanking the lifeguards and those who helped them.

READ | 'A child can drown in as little as 2.5 cms of water': How to stay safe at the beach this summer

"They risked their lives to save complete strangers without a second thought. Their selflessness is admirable and appreciated.

"I love the waves and my family loves the beach, but this experience has shown us that there is much to learn about safety," said Jantjies.

It was this concern about water safety that drew Magqazolo into lifesaving when he was eight years old.

He explained that as a kid in Khayelitsha he and his friends would sneak away to the closest beach to play in the waves. When they got home their parents were furious with them, terrified they would drown.

Water safety talk

An elder gave him a water safety talk and after that he decided that if he was going to carry on going to the beach, he would do it safely.

Magqazolo signed up as a nipper - the nickname for little lifesavers in training.

He assisted and volunteered at life-saving clubs, honing his strength, skills, and knowledge of the sea.

"You have to take time and effort to learn how the sea works, how the currents change, to manage rip currents, not to panic," he told News24. 

Magqazolo has been a lifeguard for 16 years and is still passionate about it. 

He has lost count of the number of people he has pulled out of the sea and swimming pools. 

"It's a lot!"

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He said no one had drown on his watch, explaining in the immediate aftermath of a rescue, lifeguards were not showered with praise and glory.

Many people were still in such shock that they were unable to express themselves properly. 

Sometimes all they could manage was a simple "thank you". 

Part of the job is to make follow-up calls to find out how the rescued people are doing and to check if they have recovered properly.

"And that is when they are so thankful to us," Magqazolo said modestly.

He urged bathers to listen to lifeguards, to swim at "swimming" beaches with lifeguards, and to stay between the flags indicating where it was safe to swim.

Read more on:    cape town  |  drownings
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