Highlighting the Importance of Water Safety in SA

*Featured column in the editorial section of the Cape Times, published on 24 January 2020

Very little has stirred my emotions this week quite like reading eye-witness accounts about Parktown Boys High pupil Enoch Mpianzi’s final moments before he drowned during a water activity at the Nyati Bush and River Break lodge as part of the school’s Grade 8 orientation camp.

I don’t have an adjective that could describe that there was no school teacher present observing the exercise and ensuring each pupil’s safety.

The Mpianzi family will act against the school, but it won’t bring back their son. This was a fatality that should never have happened and it also highlighted the importance of Drowning Prevention Programmes and the #WaterSmart Programme introduced by Lifesaving South Africa a few years ago.

Enoch’s tragedy was a combination of so many things, with gross negligence from the school’s leadership top of the list.

If every school is forced to follow the #Watersmart Programme and also be accountable to the basic principles of water safety, such as the wearing of life jackets when in dangerous river waters, then we would not be in tears and engulfed with such sadness about a youngster like Enoch Mpianzi.

I have been fortunate to report on Lifesaving South Africa, as a sporting federation and also as a service provider to the safety of people when it comes to water activity at public pools, rivers and the sea.

I know just how much effort goes into the social dynamic of Lifesaving South Africa and I also know just what a battle it has been to source sponsorships for the federation. The Treble Group, as the commercial partner, facilitated a first ever three-year sponsorship for Lifesaving South Africa, through its Managing Director Kyle Nel.

It was history-making in South African sport because of just how much emphasis was placed on water safety and drowning prevention.

The Treble Group and Lifesaving South Africa’s leadership, in partnership with General Tire, committed to making South Africa’s waters a safer place, but it needs constant investment from sponsors and government to fund the federation, whose lifesaving volunteers total in excess of 7000.

The sponsorship is finished this year, with General Tire having taken another sponsorship direction and I can only implore corporate South Africa to invest in a federation that is so much greater than a sporting one.

Lifesaving South Africa has some wonderful athletes, but the essence of the federation is that it is the leading authority on water education and water safety.

The recently elected president of Lifesaving South Africa Dhaya Sewduth detailed that the federation’s volunteers contributed over 130 000 hours annually, which translates into R11.9 million rand when calculated at a standard hourly rate of R80.75. This is a service that local governments, tourism industries and hospitality don’t pay for. Surely, they should, as this would allow for the federation to do so much more in increasing lifesavers, rewarding them financially and also creating ongoing school water-safety education programmes and practical education workshops.

Lifesaving South Africa has performed over 129 000 rescues to date and certifies over 1000 potential trained lifeguards annually. These should be translated into jobs and not just a volunteer service.

Lifesaving South Africa’s Watersmart programmer, presented to Grade 4-6 students as part of the Life Skills Orientation in the National Curriculum needs funding to be expanded. To date it has reached 85 000 learners in 250 schools. Sponsors General Tire, Wimpy SA and the Princess Charlene Foundation SA have contributed to the costs, but it requires so much more financial support from local governments.

The city of Durban, in October 2019, hosted the World Conference on Drowning Prevention, which was attended by 600 delegates from 64 countries. In summary the message was that drownings are preventable, and this has never been more illustrated than with young Enoch Mpianzi.

Had the proper water safety guidelines been in place, Enoch and his school colleagues would not have been in danger. Drownings are the cause of the greatest number of deaths among our youth.

It requires on-going education, practical implementation and financial resource for Lifesaving South Africa to get to every youngster in this country. My plea is for corporate South Africa and local government to put their money where their hearts surely have to be when it comes to the water safety of our children.

And my sincerest condolences to the Mpianzi family at this most awful of time.