Chobe riverboat operator’s bravery hailed
The Chobe River boat tragedy that left two men dead could have been infinitely worse had it not been for the heroic actions of a quick-thinking Safari Guide.
28-year-old Njeni Sankwasa disregarded his own safety, diving into the murky, crocodile-infested waters to save a six-year-old boy from drowning.
As well as the child, the Flame of Africa employee rescued three other passengers after their boat capsized and sunk on Saturday evening.
By Sunday, N’Jay, as he’s popularly known in Kasane, was trending on social media as people across the country commended him for his heroics.
Speaking to The Voice on Wednesday, days after his bravery saved four lives, Sankwasa admitted he had still not come to terms with his newfound fame.
“It has been an unbelievable five days. The overwhelming messages of support from Batswana have humbled me. I still can’t believe that’s me people are talking about on social media. I’m trending!”
The young Kasane hero revealed he obtained his Guide Licence from Career Dreams in 2017 and joined his current employer in 2019.
Relating the Saturday evening ordeal, Sankwasa explained he was operating what he termed a ‘luxurious’ Flame of Africa boat and was heading to the dock when ‘all hell broke loose’ behind him.
“I was on my way to drop my clients at the docking station after a boat cruise. In fact, it was around 1800hrs and all the boats were well outside the park and were heading towards their docking stations,” he narrated.
Sankwasa said he spotted the 12-seater boat, which seemed to be making a last lap of amusement for its client.
“They were all happy and a bit loud, which is not an uncommon sight here. Sometimes we see people standing up on boats or even dancing which is dangerous as it interferes with the boat’s balance.”
Choosing his next words carefully, Sankwasa added, “I really don’t want to say much about what I saw or did not see, because it is a sensitive matter and it is still in court.”
It wasn’t long after spotting the small boat that the young guide heard desperate screams for help.
“I quickly turned my boat around. What I saw horrified me. There were people in the water waving desperately as they struggled to stay afloat,” recalled Sankwasa, adding he immediately sped towards the scene with his startled clients still on board.
Taking care not to get to close to the carnage, with those in the water screaming for help, Sankwasa kept his composure, throwing life jackets into the river for the accident victims to grab on to.
“My attention was drawn towards a little boy who was on the brink of going under. Without hesitation, I jumped into the water, grabbed him and hauled him to safety.
“I then swam towards two guys who were in an entanglement. One had managed to get hold of a life jacket and the other was clutching on to his leg for dear life!” narrated Sankwasa.
With the help of clients, the muscly youth managed to drag the two men aboard the boat before swimming off to rescue the third man.
“The other six people were rescued by another Flame of Africa boat. At the time I was not aware that two men were still missing,” he added sadly.
Pausing briefly as he reflects on his life-saving antics, Sankwasa said, “It wasn’t an easy thing to do because the river is about 17 metres deep, and the swimming skills I have are self-taught. I swam in this river as a young boy since 2002. Those lessons learnt after sneaking off to swim in the river saved lives!”
Sankwasa said he wished there was a way government could take guides for scuba diving lessons because they spend most of their time in and around water.
However, his biggest worry is the impact the accident could have on an industry that has already endured a severe beating since the outbreak of Covid-19.
“I hope people will not panic. They should go ahead with their bookings and as tour operators, we promise to take good care of them. We’ll provide all the necessary items for emergencies like life jackets and first aid kits.
“Please don’t cancel your bookings, we need you to put food on the table!” urged Sankwasa.