Durban - No one is praying harder for the recovery of Silindile Mhlongo than the boy who saved her life. He stays in touch with doctors at Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital where she is the intensive care unit. Her condition is believed to be critical.
Community leaders have praised 17-year-old Gabriele Ronchese’s actions – getting his mother to stop her car among an angry crowd at Whoonga Park to attend to Mhlongo, who had been run over in a hit-and-run incident.
Activist Heather Rorick and local DA councillor Nichole Graham have commended him not only for his bravery but also for his strong sense of caring for a community that many people in Durban fear.
Rorick, who chairs the Bulwer Community Safety Forum, said she hoped what Ronchese did while still in his Glenwood High School uniform would influence others.
“There’s a lot of negativity around the Whoonga Park issue. We all need to get down and help,” she said.
Today, various community safety forums will march to the City Hall, calling on eThekwini Municipality to speed up its plans to deal with the crisis and implement long-term solutions.
Ronchese’s hands-on moment happened a fortnight ago when he and his mother, Jill, were driving past Whoonga Park and noticed pandemonium in the road.
“I looked around, trying to see what on earth was going on. Then I saw this girl in a heap and a pool of blood,” Ronchese said.
His mother did not want to stop the car. “It didn’t look safe with whoonga druggies standing around but Gabriele insisted,”Jill recalled.
“They have a terrible reputation, killing people for money to feed their addiction. I was shaking but Gabe took control and told them that he was qualified to help their friend as he has his Level Three Emergency First Aid certificate.
“They were happy with that and backed off. It helps to be over two metres tall and stay calm.”
Ronchese recalled feeling “a new kind of confidence” as he leapt through the crowd to his patient.
“First, I made sure her airwaves were open. There was lots of blood and vomit. Luckily she was in the foetal side position and I didn’t have to move her. It appeared that a tyre had gone over her head. Later I found out there were fractures.”
He said her pulse was erratic.
An ambulance arrived after 45 minutes, the police two hours later.
“I noticed they kept the crowd at bay. They had been going into the road, shouting and swearing.”
While attending to Mhlongo, he saw her going into shock and ordered a man who may have been her boyfriend to get blankets.
Once the ambulance arrived, he and paramedics cut off her dreadlocks, gave her oxygen and applied bandages.
What followed for Ronchese was “the ride of my life”, with sirens blaring and travelling in the back of the ambulance to King Edward VIII Hospital where he continued to help.
“We cut her clothes off. There were smells I shall never forget. The smell of death – blood, phlegm, faeces, vomit, body odour.”
Since then, he and his mother, Jill, have kept a close eye on Mhlongo’s progress. She has since been transferred to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.
She is believed to be much the same age as her rescuer.
Singing Ronchese’s praises, Rorick said: “I think it was very noble, actually courageous that he actually rendered help without regard to his own safety. He has shown that there are good people out.”
What added value to his actions was that it came “from a youngster”, said Rorick.
She said she could imagine how anxious his mother must have been. “But it is clear that his parents have instilled a good, kind nature in him.”
Graham said Ronchese’s staying in contact with the hospital showed “a great sense of compassion”. “I hope more young people show this spirit of helping others.”
Graham said the incident highlighted the magnitude of the whoonga problem.
Ronchese does first aid as a school activity and usually practises it at rugby matches.
His headmaster, Trevor Kershaw, said: “Glenwood is very proud of Gabriele Ronchese for using his first aid training to assist a seriously injured lady who had been knocked over by a car. He assisted all the way to the hospital and then visited the next day. A young man displaying an excellent service ethic.
“He is a fine young man and a good role model for the younger boys.”
Ronchese said that, on reflection, he performed a knee-jerk reaction to obey what his mother had taught him, even though she had been reluctant to stop the car. “My mother taught me to do to others as I’d want done to me,” said the tall, soft-spoken, teen. “That’s why I got out. I’d like someone to save my life if I were in that situation. How can I expect that if I haven’t done it to someone else?”
Ronchese attributes this viewpoint to his family’s highs and lows. When things didn’t work out for his South African father’s venture in Dallas, Texas, the family relocated to the Seychelles in the hope of entering another venture that fell through. They lost all they had.
They then found themselves in Durban, his mother’s home town, with only their suitcase and their clothes on their backs. “I was about 12.”
So, the family headed off to a mission station in Limpopo, where his parents became school teachers and he completed primary school.