A five-year-old boy nearly drowned in a brave attempt to save two young girls from the murky, swift-flowing Msunduzi River near Edendale yesterday.
The three children, survivor Bandile Latha, 5, and cousins Noluthando Dzanibe, 5, and Zama Thando Mbatha, 3, were playing in the shallows at about 2.30pm when tragedy struck and the two girls were caught in the current.
Bandile, who cannot swim, tried nevertheless to come to their aid, but was swept away himself. He was washed into reeds but kept his head and managed to climb out.
The child was too traumatised to speak to the Daily News, but his mother, Nombuyiselo Sokhela, said Bandile managed to hold on to the reeds and crawl out of the water.
He emerged with cuts and bruises and began screaming for help.
The 3-year-old who was swept away was later found about 250m downstream, while the 5-year-old was found about 500m downstream.
Explaining how her son had tried to rescue his playmates, Sokhela said:
“It was this sudden instinct to save a drowning person.”
Sokhela said she had received a phone call that there had been a drowning and hurried home fearing the worst.
“When I got the news I immediately rushed home, I did not realise that my child was alive.”
When she saw him she hugged and kissed him. “I whispered a silent prayer, thanking God for sparing his life. I had just finished buying his school clothes as he would be going to Grade R, to Alston Primary School in Pietermaritzburg.
“It's very painful, what has happened. This tragedy at the beginning of a New Year is very painful,” she said.
Her husband, S’bu Latha, was thankful. “When I received a message that there was a drowning, I just did not know what to think. I simply was confused, but thank God my little angel, Bandile, was safe.”
Earlier, while the drama was unfolding, a courageous 14-year-old, Mbuso Ndhlovu, also dived into the river in an effort to help.
The Grade 7 pupil at Inzuzwenhle School in Edendale, had seen the body of the 5-year-old being swept downstream, and did not hesitate.
From an embankment more than seven metres above the river, Mbuso dived in, and began pushing the body to the riverbank.
There his mother, Lungile Ndhlovu, came to help retrieve it.
Ndhlovu said: “I could hear a child screaming and a passerby said that some children were in difficulty in the river below my house.
“I ran like I never did run in my whole life as I saw the child being swept downstream and my son dived to stop the child being washed away.
“The children are from Sweetwaters and were visiting their grandmother and had only arrived here a few days ago,” she said.
Sibonelo Shangase, of the Plessislaer Police Youth Desk and chairman of the area’s Community Police Forum, appealed to residents on Thursday to “please look after your children and not let them go anywhere near the river, because the river is flowing very swiftly and we don’t need any more tragedies in the area like this one”.
The children’s grandmother had left for Sweetwaters by the time the Daily News arrived.
Her home is about 200m from the river.