KZN Sharks Board boat survivors have nightmares after tragedy

The survivors of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board boat accident say they are still reeling after their ordeal - the first of its kind in the board's 60-year history.

The two survivors, who say they still have nightmares, are struggling to accept what happened.

Two of their colleagues drowned when their boat capsized during a shark net inspection at Richards Bay's Newark Beach on August 8. The incident happened at about 07:00.

Eric Buthelezi and Sqiniseko Ngobese were speaking to journalists at the memorial service of their skipper Richard Gumede, and another colleague Mandlakayise Gumede, in Durban on Thursday.

Siyabonga Gabela, who was also on the boat, has not yet been found.

Buthelezi recalled that the sea was not violent when they started inspecting the nets.

"Our skipper first went to sea to check whether everything was okay and he came back to pick us up. The sea suddenly changed when we were already working, thus tipping the boat over," he said.

'We could have all survived'

Buthelezi said he has worked for the Sharks Board for the past 10 years and he shared a special relationship with both the deceased and Gabela.

"I still have nightmares after what happened that day. It's unbelievable that in just one accident, I lost two colleagues and one is still missing. We used to hang around together and share jokes and everything. We even lived in the same company house," he said.

He said he had been friends with the deceased for a long time and on the day of the incident they woke up and went to work together.

"We could have all survived if the lifeguards were at the beach. But we arrive at work around 05:45 before the guards start their work," he said.

He said he has no choice but to go back to work despite what had happened to his colleagues.

"I have to go back to work because of job scarcity. I have children and a family to look after., that's why I have to go back despite what we experienced," he said.

Buthelezi added that he survived because when the boat overturned, he managed to hold on to one of its engines.

The engines had stopped working, he explained.

"I held on to the engine with both my hands for dear life because the strong waves kept bashing the boat which was upside down at the time. I then spotted the skipper's life jacket near the boat. I quickly grabbed and tried to swim to safety," he said.

Buthelezi said a wave then swept him up and he landed near a pier where beach cleaners had been standing.

"They then assisted me out of the sea," he said adding that they were not wearing their life jackets when the huge wave overturned their boat.

'My mother still cannot accept'

Another survivor Sqiniseko Ngobese, who was stuck in a shark net after the boat overturned, thanked his ancestors after he survived the incident.

He said he was also going back to work, despite the "nightmares" he had.

Mandlakayise Gumede's sister Duduzile Gumede told News24 that her brother was the only breadwinner in their family.

"My mother still cannot accept the fact that he is gone. We are devastated because he was the only one who provided for the family even though he had no children of his own," she said.

Her brother is expected to be buried on Sunday in Mtubatuba.

Skipper Richard Gumede is expected to be buried at his home in Umkomaas on Saturday. He had worked for the Sharks Board for more than 18 years and won numerous awards for exceptional performance.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

Acting Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Mxolisi Kaunda told mourners at the funeral: "Their line of work was a calling to save lives. They understood that they were blessed to save others."

He reiterated that the board had not had a fatal boat accident since it was formed more than 60 years ago.