Durban - An Umlazi teenager on Wednesday spoke of the thrill of train surfing - riding on the roof of a passenger train - saying thatn while he knew it was dangerous, it was also addictive.
He was speaking to the Daily News after the funeral of his friend, 16-year-old Msizi Nzama, who was electrocuted last week while train surfing.
Msizi and his friends were competing to see who was the best and fastest train surfer, and in a test of courage, had to dodge the contact wires and touch the train’s digital destination board in the front before returning to safety, said the 16-year-old boy, Thulani* (not his real name).
Thulani said he was also competing that fateful day, and that he had been the one who introduced Msizi to the deadly sport. He said he was shocked when he saw his friend make contact with the overhead contact wires and the train’s pantograph.
“I went straight back into the train and sat down, I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed,” he said. “After a few minutes I went back to him and I just watched him as he lay there.”
Thulani said the boys had boarded the passenger train illegally through a broken fence near the Lindokuhle train station in uMlazi on Wednesday last week, on their way to meet other friends at the Reunion station near Isipingo.
They got on the roof and had been jumping and dancing on it before deciding to compete with each other in memory of a fallen friend, also a train surfer, who had been knocked down by a car two weeks before.
Thulani said he was about a carriage away behind Msizi when he watched him slip as the train came to an abrupt stop after the driver got an apparent fright when one of the boys slapped the destination board. Ironically, Msizi had vowed it would be his final ride before he quit the pastime for good, Thulani said.
He said he knew train surfing was dangerous, but it was addictive.
“I live near the railway line. When I was 12 I used to see other boys do it and I thought, ‘let me try it’. I started doing it and I thought to myself, ‘it’s a game, like PlayStation’. I didn’t know it was dangerous until people got hurt,” he said.
“I don’t know what drives me to do this; it’s addictive, like cigarettes, it gets in your blood and you want to keep doing it.”
At the funeral on Wednesday, community members and a local pastor urged the youngsters to give up train surfing.
Msizi’s friends have vowed to never train surf again, saying one of the reasons they had engaged in the sport was to prove to rail security guards that no one could stop them. They claimed they had been assaulted by the guards.
Among those at Msizi’s funeral on Wednesday was a group of about 30 pupils.
Singing along to church hymns, the group of friends burst out into song, chanting in Zulu, “a soldier dies doing what he loves”, and “he died train surfing, he died doing what he loved”.
Msizi’s uncle, Dumisani Nzama, who said he had been like a father to him, told mourners that he had had many sleepless nights since the incident.
“I don’t know how much more needs to be said to you boys, you need to stop doing this,” he said to his nephew’s friends. “I heard about another incident, just this week, of a boy who was injured in Zwelethu (in uMlazi). What will it take for you boys to listen?”
Metrorail spokeswoman, Thandi Mkhize, said spot checks were being done on trains, and police and private guards were working jointly to deal with the problem.
* Thulani’s real name is being withheld to protect the identity of the boy, a minor.