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“I call him ‘The man with the blue umbrella’. I will remember and thank Bongani Duma until doomsday,” said Kavisha Seevnarain.
Seated in her Durban living room, she went back in time to recall the nightmare of her abduction in November 2009, when she survived plunging 67 metres - the equivalent of a 20-storey building - after four men decided to remove the only witness to their hijacking spree. Against huge odds she lived, and returned to her life as a popular high school teacher, and studied for an MBA degree.
Experts still shake their heads at her story, wondering what forces were at work that night to save her from almost certain death.
“It was not my time,” she says firmly. “There was a reason I survived, and I am determined to find it.”
Seevnarain speculated that the padded anorak she was wearing might have trapped air as she plummeted from the bridge over the uMkhomazi River just south of Durban, and slowed her descent.
“I fell, and fell, and as the water rushed closer, I thought: ‘I might be going to die, but I can fly!’”
She smashed into a sandbank covered by shallow water and lay motionless; sure her attackers would finish her off if they saw her move. After long minutes she tried to stand, fell, tried again then realised she had sustained serious injury.
Survival instinct kicked in. She knew the tide would rise and drown her if she didn’t reach higher ground. Using her elbows she dragged her body to one of the bridge supports, whose base was entangled with sticks and other debris.
“I hauled the top of my body on to the mound, but my legs were still in the water. I knew there was no hope anyone would find me in the dark and if I could sleep, the night would pass faster.
“‘Please God,’ I begged. ‘The water is too cold.’ And at once it warmed around me, and I closed my eyes and slept.”
At daybreak she spotted trucks making their way along a side road to the paper mill. Seevnarain screamed until hoarse, but the engine noises drowned her cries. And then she saw him. A man with an umbrella, on foot.
“The blue umbrella would stop a moment, and then start moving again. I screamed louder and louder, and then the umbrella stopped again, and began moving back towards me. Bongani had come to save me. I was going to live after all.”
Seevnarain spent weeks in the high care ward of St Augustine’s Hospital with a fractured pelvis and broken ribs.
Her courage under fire, and her eye for detail, proved invaluable to police. She was able to recall the men’s appearance, the names of roads they had driven past, and the digits in car licence plates.
The law acted swiftly to apprehend the four men who had hijacked her as she drove to a friend’s home in Shallcross from her Pinetown cottage.
In a matter of weeks the four were sentenced to between 12 and 40 years’ imprisonment for their crimes.
Seevnarain is not bitter but emphatic: “I want them to serve their full sentences. Perhaps in time they will realise what they did.”
In hospital the bright, self-deprecating woman became a firm favourite with staff, and the paramedics who rescued her were frequent visitors.
Incredibly, by Christmas she was walking, with the aid of a stick and body brace.
The damage to her psyche took longer to heal.
“At first I couldn’t drive alone, and definitely not in the dark. The first time I got behind the wheel again to visit my folks in Pietermaritzburg, I was part-way there when the light started to fade. In my paranoia I thought everyone was watching and following me. I called my father and said: ‘Dad, I can’t do it. They’re going to get me.’ He spoke to me like when I was a child, very gently. ‘Just keep going, and phone me every five minutes. You will be fine, my darling,’ he said. ‘Keep calm. Keep driving’.”
Seevnarain has since returned to the uMkhomazi River bridge with her family more than once, and laid the ghosts to rest. She continues to teach, and is in the final stages of an MBA degree. For now there is no-one sharing her life except her childhood collection of Barbie dolls, but she is in the early stages of a relationship with someone who, she confides, “Might just be the one”.
She has maintained contact with her “man with the blue umbrella”. - Sunday Argus