Teacher dies after brick wall collapses on her, and toddler crushed to death

Rennisha Gounden

Rennisha Gounden

Published Jun 9, 2024


A TONGAAT father relived this week how he found his wife’s lifeless body under a pile of rubble minutes after a tornado ripped through their Tongaat, North Coast, home on Monday evening.

Metres away, Newtown mother Nyampose Matamela cried out for help after her fridge fell on her 18-month-old twin babies, Nawena and Nashanti, when the tornado hit their home. Nawena was killed and Nashanti is in critical condition in hospital.

Rennisha Gounden, 39, a senior primary teacher at Mitchford and a Tamil cultural ambassador, died when a brick wall collapsed on her at her Rama Road, Sandfields home.

She was at home at the time with her husband, Veven, 44, an advanced midwife, her son, Virenn, 7, and mother, Manormani Reddy, 74.

Gounden said it was just after 4pm and they were having supper, when it started to hail.

“My son went outside to see the hail and I joined him once I was done eating. A short while later, we went back inside. Rennisha and I were watching the weather through our sliding door. My mother-in-law was sitting in the lounge. Suddenly, we saw a big cloud move across from the Newtown area towards us. Moments later my son screamed.”

A distraught Gounden said he immediately ran to his son.

“By this time the house was shaking and I used my body to protect my son. He was terrified and I was not sure what was happening,” he said.

“Minutes later, the situation returned to calm. I immediately went to check on Rennisha and her mother. I could not find her. I then went on to the patio and found her lying under rubble, but it was too late. She was already dead. I tried to make her comfortable by covering her with a blanket. I then tried to call for help.”

Avesh Ramparasad, a close family friend, said when he received a call from Gounden for help, he had to maneuver his way through the heavy rain, traffic and debris to get to the family.

“Eventually, I parked my vehicle a distance away and walked to their house. There were fallen trees and debris everywhere.”

He said he was greeted by a devastating scene at the family’s home.

“Rennisha was lying on the patio floor and was covered with a blanket. Unfortunately, it was too late. She was bleeding heavily from her face. I ran back up to the road to try and get my van to the house. I tried to use a route via Newtown but that too was blocked.

Rennisha Gounden's home after the tornado hit. Pictures: Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers.

“The water level of the river was also steadily rising and I knew we had to get out of the area. I then spotted two Reaction Unit SA (Rusa) officers – Claude Munien and Laven Rajgopaul – and asked them for help. I jumped into their vehicle and managed to get to the house.

“We carried Rennisha’s body to the vehicle and drove for about 2km. Here, we were met by another security vehicle with a stretcher. We placed her body on a stretcher and waited on the side of the road for the police to arrive.”

Ramparasad said when police arrived they took her body away. Gounden said it was extremely difficult to cope with his wife’s death, but he had to be strong for their son.

“Last night he kept asking where his mother was and I had to explain that she was no more. It was really difficult, heartwrenching.”

He described Rennisha as a jovial person who loved children.

“But she was also very strict at times because she was a teacher,” he fondly recalled.

He said she was a member of the Tongaat Tamil Academy and had a passion for promoting the Tamil language and culture.

Monica Naik, her friend, said Rennisha had a bubbly personality and was a loving person.

“I have no words to describe how I am feeling or what happened in this area. Rennisha was one of the best. She loved planning things and having all her family and friends under one roof. She was a perfectionist and would do everything to the best of her ability.”

Naik said Rennisha adored her only child.

“He was her life and she loved him so much.”

In Newtown, Nyampose Matamela also tried to use her body as a human shield to protect her twins.

Belinda Mngadi holds a teddy bear belonging to Nawena and Nashanti Matamela.

Her neighbour, Belinda Mngadi, 61, said she could hear Matamela’s desperate cries for help.

“It was loud and terrifying. I went to her home with my son to help. She rents my outbuilding and it was destroyed by the tornado.

“Nyampose was also hurt. Her leg was broken. But, she was unfazed by her pain. The fridge had fallen on her twins and she was trying to move it off. Her son eventually managed to move it and free the babies. Sadly, they were both badly hurt.”

She said the twins sustained serious head injuries and that Nawena was bleeding from her ears and nose. She died almost instantly.

“Nashanti had severe injuries on her face and chest. She is critical. She was struggling to breathe. We took all of them back to our house. Nyampose, with her broken leg, paced up and down and we did not know how to console her,” she added.

Mngadi said Matamela and Nashanti are in hospital

“We have no idea how they are because the phone lines are down and we are unable to call the hospital. We pray that they are okay,” she said.

Gugu Sisilana, the spokesperson for the eThekwini Municipality, said preliminary reports indicated that at least 11 people had died with seven of them from Tongaat. Tongaat, she said, had been classified as the most affected area with hundreds of houses destroyed.

“Over 55 people suffered minor to moderate injuries and are receiving medical treatment in hospital. At least 120 people have been displaced and three temporary shelters have been established where the affected families are receiving humanitarian aid.”

Kevin Rae, chief forecaster for disaster risk reduction at the South African Weather Services (Saws), confirmed that two tornadoes had ripped through KwaZulu Natal, affecting Tongaat, Ballito and Newcastle on Monday.

He said on Friday, Saws issued an urgent media release ahead of the expected development of an upper air cut-off low system.

“The sudden spell of extreme weather started developing over the country at the weekend.

“The cut-off low system was expected to develop a range of severe weather including severe storms, heavy rain and flooding, heavy snowfall as well as very rough seas around our southern ocean and coastal areas,” he added.

Rae said that while the cut-off low system would be moving away from the country, there was still a risk for isolated communities in high altitude areas of the Eastern Cape, where heavy snowfall was expected this week.


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