FEEL GOOD | Cape Town barman hailed as hero for saving group swept out to sea by massive wave

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Tongai Matandirotya
Tongai Matandirotya
PHOTO: Supplied
  • A Cape Town barman has been hailed a local hero after saving several people swept out to sea at Kalk Bay harbour.
  • This, after a massive wave washed them out to sea, earlier this month.
  • The barman used the belt of his pants to pull people to safety.   

A barman from the Brass Bell Restaurant and Pub in the fishing village of Kalk Bay, who saved the lives of a group of people swept out to sea by a massive wave, has been hailed as a hero.

Tongai Matandirotya jumped into action when the wave hit, taking on the strong rip current without considering his own safety.

According to Matandirotya, he saw several people walking along the harbour from the window where he was serving drinks.

"I saw this wave come over the harbour and it covered the people, dragging them into the ocean. I immediately ran outside, undressed myself, and dived into the water because I saw a child go in as well. I have a very soft spot for kids, and my instinct just kicked in to see if I could help," he said. 

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He added that the rip current was particularly strong that day, and the water was cold, but he was determined to try and help those in the water.

"I grabbed my belt from my pants before diving in and used it to pull the people out of the water. When I managed to get some of them to shore, I called for backup as there were still more people in the ocean. Others then dived in and started helping with the rescue," Matandirotya said.

Matandirotya said only after everyone was safely back on shore, did he notice that he had scratched himself badly against the harbour's concrete wall.

He quipped:

The scarring will probably be there permanently on my leg, but it's okay; at least lives were saved.

Matandirotya said he had been a barman for over eight years and had never seen a wave rise the way it did that Friday afternoon.

"I still can't believe what happened, it was such a nice sunny day, and suddenly just after lunchtime, the rip current started," he added.

Clair Gardiner, 37, and her daughter Arya van Hilten, 8, were among those swept away.

Gardiner said they had had lunch at the White Bait restaurant and decided afterwards to go watch the seals, when the wave suddenly hit. 

"As we walked, a massive rogue wave knocked us into the harbour. Some of the people weren't able to swim," she said.

Tongai and Arya
Arya with her rescuer, Tongai.
Photo Supplied Supplied

"It was hectic. When you're in the moment, it's much more dramatic. All I remember was grabbing my kid when I knew we would go over into the sea. I wrapped my arms around her and managed to get us safely away from the heavy waves," said Gardiner. 

She added that another man, a tourist, also jumped into the water to help save people.

Gardiner recalled that just a few metres before reaching the shore with her daughter, she realised that she couldn't hold onto Arya any longer and managed to shout for help.

She added:

Arya was unable to float herself, and she started panicking. We couldn't keep up in the water any longer as it was too much. The next thing I knew, there was a man next to us, and I frantically asked him to 'please take my daughter out to the shore'. He did just that, and I was then able to gather the little bit of strength I had left, to get myself out of the water. I was exhausted!

She added that she did not realise that the man who had saved her and her daughter's life was Matandirotya.

"I recently went to the restaurant to thank him. My daughter recognised him immediately, and we all embraced each other. We are so thankful to Tongai and the tourist man who risked their lives to save ours; we'll forever be grateful to them," she added.

Clair Gardiner and her daughter Arya van Hilten
Clair Gardiner, 37, and her daughter Arya.
Photo Supplied Supplied

Gardiner also lauded staff at Cape to Cuba who had called an ambulance - an invaluable action she said, as she did not think anyone at the time had thought of calling the emergency service as they were all in shock.

'Wall of water'

Angela Campbell, 75, was visiting family in Cape Town, when they decided to have lunch before going for a stroll alongside the harbour.

"I was pushing my great grandson's buggy, it all happened so fast, one minute we were walking along, the next thing a wall of water swept me into the bay, it took my breath away. I remember going underwater, and I could not swim. I remember swallowing a lot of water, and I panicked," she said.

Campbell said all she remembered was that she had been floating on her back.

Angela Campbell
Angela Campbell
Photo Supplied Supplied

"I looked around and realised I was in the water. I panicked! Eventually, I managed to turn over, but I then started sinking. I remember talking to myself, saying 'God make it quick, I'm scared'. A family member then pulled on my shirt and help swam me back to the surface," she added.

Campbell said that besides her life being saved, she was more thankful that her grandson was not in the buggy that she was pushing when the wave hit her.

Campbell added:

That haunts me every night. I'm very grateful to Tongai and the other people who pulled me up the harbour wall to safety.

 Brass Bell restaurant spokesperson Ethan Govender said the staff and management team were impressed by Matandirotya's bravery.

"We applaud him for his braveness in jumping into action to save those that fell into the ocean. Tongai is a wonderful, loveable, fun human being. His character speaks volumes, and we are immensely proud of the risk he took in saving lives," Govender added.


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