A Mossel Bay mother discovered the body of her nine-year-old son between the rocks of Diaz Beach just a day after the almost week-long search for the child was suspended.
Residents of the Western Cape tourism town have since called for lifeguards to be stationed along its beaches during the warmer months, but the local municipality says it cannot afford to do so.
Katriena October found the body of her son, Jason Nomdoe, on Monday.
She had searched the beach every day since Jason was declared missing on 6 October. The boy is alleged to have got into trouble in the water while he and friends were chasing after a ball that was carried away by a wave.
The family lives in Da Gamaskop Extension 8.
Explaining how events unfolded, October told the Mail & Guardian that after covering nearly 12 kilometres of beach to and from the nearby town of Hartenbos, she sat down on the Diaz Beach rocks to rest with her daughter and a friend.
“I told my daughter I feel tired, let’s just sit a while,” October said.
“We were drinking cold drinks and eating chips. I said let’s go home. I want to go and lie down. My dog walked with us and as I called him I saw the body lying further away. I called my daughter and started to scream and cry. My daughter ran to the body and went to ask someone to at least cover the body”.
The drowning led to residents pleading with authorities for lifeguards to be stationed more permanently on the town’s beaches.
One such resident, responding to a local newspaper article, recalled how he had rescued a young boy “who was busy drowning in a rip current in waist-high water” on the same day October discovered her son’s body.
“Diaz Beach needs lifeguards every day, especially now during these warmer months!”
Another resident added: “Why don’t they (the municipality) ensure there are lifeguards at the beach? We have police, why not have lifeguards?”
A frequent holiday visitor to Mossel Bay who witnessed the search and rescue teams efforts to recover Nomdoe’s body, Adrie Jurgensen, said the lack of permanent lifeguards was almost unbelievable.
“They only have lifeguards during December. Maybe that must just change to all beaches having lifeguards always. It can create jobs and save lives,” said Jurgensen.
October said there were lifeguards stationed further down the beach in front of a hotel, but not where her son and his friends were playing.
“If they (the lifeguards) did rounds or told my son they are not allowed to play there but rather where they (the lifeguards) are, they might have saved my son,” says October.
But the local Mossel Bay municipality says it comes down to not having enough money to deploy lifeguards all year round.
Acting mayor, Dirk Kotzé, told the M&G: “You never want to weigh up money against lives, so that’s the unfortunate thing to do. But we can’t afford it, that’s the bottom line.”
According to Kotzé, deploying lifeguards during peak times costs the municipality R2-million a year.
“It’s a tragedy when children lose their lives. But it is not financially sustainable to have lifeguards (every day). We’ve got 80 kilometres of beaches in Mossel Bay. It’s just impossible to have lifeguards on all the beaches all the time, it’s just impossible.”
Kotzé added: “We will never be able to save everybody’s life or ensure everyone is safe. That’s why you try to be proactive,” referring to the boards warning people to not let children or youngsters swim in the sea unattended.
According to October, her son joined a group of boys who went to the beach with her neighbour, an older man.
“On Tuesday evening he asked me if he can go to the beach with the neighbour the following day. I was hesitant to let him go but I know how much he loves the sea. So I agreed that he can go,” said October.
Nomdoe could not swim. He would always go deeper into the sea on his father’s shoulders, but never alone, she said.
“The [Wednesday] morning he constantly asked me ‘what is the time mommy?’. I got frustrated but realised he is just excited to go to the beach. Just after seven that morning was the last time I saw him.”
It was much later that day that she found out the neighbour only joined the boys later and that another adult accompanied them. She says if she knew the neighbour would not be joining the group, she would not have allowed her son to go.
According to the local police spokesperson, Christopher Spies: “Three boys were playing in the water when they got into trouble. Members of the public came to their assistance when two were rescued and the third disappeared.”
It is believed the boys entered the sea after their ball was carried away by a wave.
“He was a lovely child, always playful,” recalls an emotional October.
The family plans to take blue balloons and flowers to the beach in memory of Nomdoe on Wednesday afternoon, 13 October, exactly a week after he drowned.
A funeral is also being planned for next week.
October has been offered trauma counselling at the local police station.
An autopsy is underway to determine the exact cause of Nomdoe’s death, according to Spies.