The family of one of the KwaZulu-Natal medical students who drowned in Cuba says his death is not only a devastating loss to them, but also for the rural South Coast community he grew up in.
Sibusiso Ngeleka, who would have turned 24 next week, died on Saturday night after drowning in a pool at a house where he was attending a birthday party with fellow students.
During a visit to the family's home at KwaNzimakwe near Port Edward on Wednesday, Thulani Nkosana, the department of health deputy director responsible for co-ordinating the Cuba programme, said he woke up to messages of the tragedy on Sunday morning.
He said the two students went to cool off in the pool. After some time, the others noticed one student was in trouble, grabbed him out of the pool and rushed him to hospital, but he died on the way.
“The others who stayed behind then saw that there was another student in the pool, but it was too late, he could not be saved,” said Nkosana.
No foul play was suspected, he said.
Hearing how her only child perished, Ngeleka’s mother Lungi Mganu wailed uncontrollably, screaming “my child, my child”.
She was escorted out of the room amid prayers as Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo sang a hymn.
Dhlomo could not hold back his tears, saying that while there were almost 900 KZN students in Cuba, he knew Ngeleka personally.
Dhlomo said that in 2014 Ngeleka had missed a flight and ended up missing a whole semester due to a French air traffic controllers' strike.
“I knew him well so I feel a lot of pain in my heart, but I know the pain of the family is far greater. When we say goodbye to these children as they leave for Cuba, we don’t know that they will come back one by one under tragic circumstances,” said Dhlomo.
A few weeks ago, Dhlomo visited the students in Cuba and returned with one who had been stabbed in a fight with another. Some months ago, two other students had to return home for funerals after mass killings of their family members.
“I will be meeting with the Minister, Dr (Aaron) Motsoaledi, this afternoon, and one of the issues for discussion will be the repatriation of these boys,” he said.
Dhlomo will also be visiting the family of the second drowning victim, Sihle Cebo Makhaye, 24, in uMhlabuyalingana, in the north of the province, at the weekend.
He said he was hoping to have their remains repatriated next week.
Ngeleka’s uncle, Albert, said the family was finding it difficult to accept the tragedy.
Sibusiso was raised by his grandmother Nosipho Ngeleka, who sold vegetables to provide for his schooling.
“He loved school and it was very important to him, so I didn’t want him to want for any- thing,” she said, adding that he had always wanted to be a doctor. “He was a bright child, who helped tutor at school and around this community,” said the grandmother.