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By Marizka Coetzer


‘Teach our kids to swim’ – experts on Hennops drowning

Experts warn of more pupil drownings if safety measures aren't improved after tragic deaths of boys aged 13 and 16.

Experts say if more is not done to prevent pupils from drowning in rivers and on school outings, the two pupils who died this week during discipline camp would not be the last.

It was still unclear how the two teenagers, one aged 13 and the other 16, from Daveyton Skills School in Benoni died on Monday in the Hennops River, outside Pretoria, at a “discipline camp” held by a nongovernmental organisation, Rising Stars Generation.

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The Daveyton pupils were not the first to drown during a school outing: in 2022, grade 6 pupil Mandla Chauke from Refalotse Primary School in Winterveld, drowned while on a school trip and in 2020, a 13-year-old Parktown Boys’ High School pupil, Enock Mpianzi, went missing and was found drowned during a water activity at the school’s annual grade 8 camp.

The SAOU teachers’ union’s professional services chief executive, Paul Sauer, said a generalised approach should not be applied when taking on pupil safety.

There was a need to look at the processes and safeguards already in place and improve on them.

How to avoid

Sauer said a pupil’s death was always a tragedy and it was something authorities and schools should strive to avoid in every aspect of the education landscape.

“Water-based school activities, scholar transport, faulty infrastructure and violent criminality on both sides of the school gates are all areas where pupil safety is of paramount importance,” he said.

All these dangers have correlating countermeasures already in place. Lifesaving South Africa general manager Helen Herbert said all children should be taught how to swim.

“It’s still early in the year, so schools host outings and camps for soft-skills training, unlike over the exam period,” she said.

“The schools are ticking the correct boxes to get the pupils the soft skills they require, but they are not looking at the safety aspects in totality.”

Herbert said her organisation had contacted the department of education to ask the panel about measures pertaining to pupil safety on outings.

Herbert said the majority of schools did not have access to safe swimming areas or pools. “Municipal swimming pools are not at a standard they should be to give pupils the access to a learn-to-swim programme or a survival swimming programme, which would give them the skills to save their own lives and possibly others’,” she said.

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Criminologist Professor Jaco Barkhuizen said it was hard to say if someone should be prosecuted for the death of the two pupils who drowned this week.

Barkhuizen said there were many questions about the drownings, and those should be answered first.

“Was it a freak accident? Was there supervision? Was the pupil left unsupervised? Was there a lifeguard? These are the questions.

“Why do we let children swim in rivers after having had so many drownings over the years?” he asked.

Future leaders and changemakers lost

Barkhuizen said any pupil who died was the loss of a future leader or changemaker.

He said more had to be done by the department of education and the government to prevent more children from drowning. Gauteng education MEC Matome Chiloane said it was alleged that after the discipline camp concluded on Monday afternoon, one of the pupils suddenly ran towards a river close to the campsite entrance.

“A second pupil followed in an attempt to bring him back,” Chiloane said.

“The pupil who ran off jumped into the river, prompting the second pupil to try and rescue him. “However, both pupils unfortunately drowned as a result,” he said.

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The incident was reported to the City of Tshwane Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the police, who managed to recover their bodies, he said.

“Our psychosocial support unit will be dispatched to the school to provide necessary trauma support and counselling.

“We are deeply saddened by the unfortunate deaths of our [pupils] during a school excursion,” Chiloane said.

City of Tshwane emergency services department spokesperson Charles Mabaso said the circumstances leading to the drownings remained a subject of investigation by the SA Police Service.

Mabaso said the pupils were declared dead at the scene by paramedics.

ALSO READ: Hennops River water: Clean-up for Earth Day

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