WATCH: 'It's not heroism, it's compassion': Two who saved man from drowning insist they aren't heroes

2019-01-09 20:09
Two young men put their own lives at risk to save a stranger from drowning on a Western Cape beach on New Year’s Day. 
When Dewald van der Westhuizen (22) and Hannes Swart (22) noticed a man in trouble, they swam to his aid, without thinking twice and despite considerable danger.

Two young men put their own lives at risk to save a stranger from drowning on a Western Cape beach on New Year’s Day. When Dewald van der Westhuizen (22) and Hannes Swart (22) noticed a man in trouble, they swam to his aid, without thinking twice and despite considerable danger. (Ricardo Rossouw)

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Two young men put their own lives at risk to save a stranger from drowning at a Western Cape beach on New Year’s Day.

When Dewald Van der Westhuizen, 22, and Hannes Swart, 22, noticed a man in trouble they immediately swam to his aid, despite considerable danger.

The man was swimming in an undesignated area and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.

The incident happened in the late afternoon of January 1 at a packed Blaauwberg beachfront.

Ricardo Rossouw, who was at the beach with his friends, caught the rescue on camera and posted it to social media, stating that he had witnessed "the true meaning of humanity... the true spirit of Ubuntu".

"After the whole Clifton debacle, I wanted to show the world there is good in our country, there are good people, and it’s not about race or cultural differences. People should rather focus on that," Rossouw told News24.

"The man would have drowned was it not for their actions," Rossouw said.

Right place, right time

Van der Westhuizen and Swart had planned a trip to Hout Bay or Sea Point, but they ended up at Blaauwberg beach through a series of seemingly insignificant events.

"It’s pretty mind-blowing, just thinking about how it all played out," Swart told News24.

The two men, and their respective girlfriends, walked roughly 3kms from Van der Westhuizen's home in Bloubergstrand on New Year’s Day to have lunch in Blaauwberg. They had just finished eating sushi, when Swart spotted a commotion on the beach, and noticed the man in trouble.

"Nobody went in after him," Swart said.

"I turned to Dewald and said to him we have to try and help."

Instinct took over

"Hannes and I ran down to the water instinctively," Van der Westhuizen, who completed his lifesaving training at the age of 15, told News24.

He says he knew there weren’t any lifesavers on the beach.

A bystander handed the men a body board and a pink NSRI life buoy to assist them in the rescue.

They acted with such haste that Van der Westhuizen did not have time to remove his socks.

"I just swam straight toward him. I could feel the current was extremely strong," he said.

near drowning, blaauwberg

Dewald Van der Westhuizen and Hannes Swart saved a man from drowning at Blaauwberg beach on January 1. (Photo: Ricardo Rossouw)

Swart was also struggling against choppy waters with the body board in hand. He managed to reach the man first.

"It was a whopper of a current," Swart, who often swims in the ocean, reiterated.

"It felt like I had been swimming for an eternity, but I had only made about 10m [of] progress. That’s when I realised how strong the current was," Swart said.

He handed the man his body board and waited for Van der Westhuizen to arrive. They took him by the arm and pulled the man to the safety of the shore.

Paramedics and police who were on the scene tended to the man.

Messages of thanks 

Back on the beach, Van der Westhuizen and Swart were swamped by well-wishers.

"It was such an honour," Van der Westhuizen recalled. "They thanked us and said God bless us."

Swart credits God for the rescue's success.

"Dewald and I know we didn’t do this through our own strength," he said. 

After the rescue, the group of friends gathered on the beach to offer prayers. 

"We thanked God for keeping us safe during the rescue and for giving us the opportunity to rescue this man," Swart said.

He says he’d only change one thing on the day.

"I wished I had the opportunity to tell the man that Jesus loves him."

near drowning, blaauwberg
After the rescue, the group of friends gathered on the beach to offer prayers. (Photo: Ricardo Rossouw)

Family says thank you

The mother of the man reached out to Rossouw after seeing the video on social media. She thanked the men for saving her son's life.

"When he told me what happened, I didn't believe it, until I saw the video clip," she said.

"If this story can bring a little bit of hope to South Africa, or just sow a little bit of love, that's more than what I could have hoped for," Swart said. 

We're no heroes

Neither Van der Westhuizen nor Swart are comfortable with being called heroes after saving the man’s life.

"No, my definition of a hero are those people who do this daily," Van der Westhuizen said.

Swart reiterated this by saying: "There are many people who dive in and help others. I expect my fellow man to do the same for me."

"It’s not heroism, rather compassion."

Read more on:    cape town  |  accidents
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