The Free State premier, Sefora Ntombela has expressed deep shock and sadness at the news of seven children and an adult who drowned in Steynsrus, Moqhaka local municipality over the weekend.
Ntombela said the incident sent shockwaves through the province. Besides the children, an adult was also killed after his vehicle was swept into a river.
“One can only imagine the harrowing pain that the parents must be going through. I convey my condolences to all the families, and wish them strength during this trying time.”
Following severe rains in recent weeks, a number of dams and rivers in the province have filled up.
Survivors of the farm drowning said Tshokolo Hlongwane died in an attempt to save the children. They were still stuck inside the vehicle.
The children were Thapelo Tekanya (4), Ntaoleng Mpeko (13), Relebohile Mpeko (9), Mojafela Mosibi (12), Bokamoso Maphakisa (8), Hopolang Monyatsi (6) and Karabo Kok (7).
Farm drowning after rains
Ntombela pleaded with farming communities to take extreme caution during the rainy season. Following the mass drowning, concerned community members have had their hands full. This, as children continue to play and swim in the dangerous waters.
The distraught owner of the Somerset East farm, on which the drowning happened, said he is still trying to comprehend how the accident could have happened.
It could have been avoided if the driver exercised greater caution, said Fritz Joubert.
Joubert risked his own life to try and save the deceased, along with other family members and surrounding farmers.
They rushed to the scene to find Hlongwane’s vehicle already submerged under water after two adults managed to escape.
“We tied rope and tried to reach the vehicle,” Joubert described rescue attempts following the drowning to Netwerk24. “After many failed attempts, because the water was simply too strong, I realised that we would not be able to save them.”
The remains of Hlongwane and six of the children were found on Sunday while police divers only found the seventh child a day later.
‘Farmers tried their best’
Meanwhile the Steynsrus community praised Joubert for his efforts, along with a 24-year-old farmer, Harold Hills, who were “particularly heroic”. Food For Mzansi reached out to both Hills and Joubert who are saddened by the event.
Last night, a local pastor, Shello Msimang, said, “To think, these farmers were prepared to die to try and save the little ones. The drowning united us. White and black, we are united in our grief. God bless all of them.”