Water safety in Johannesburg has dominated the headlines as our children headed back to school earlier this month.
On the same day that 13-year-old Enoch Mpianzi from Parktown Boys’ High School drowned, Keamohetswe Seboko, also 13, was found at the bottom of a hostel swimming pool at the school he attended.
As parents, these incidents have raised many issues – not only about water safety – but around the general safety of our children when under the supervision of teachers either at school or on school excursions.
The concern for our children has even been expressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who says South Africa is failing its children.
“All of those young lives, and the lives of many others, need never have been lost. It seems to me that, as a society, we are failing our children,” he said.
He says South Africans need to build a culture of responsibility. And no more so than around swimming pools and bodies of open water.
Should swimming lessons be compulsory at school?
In the many column inches printed in newspapers in the aftermath of the tragedies, one of the recurring themes has been the lack of swimming skills among South Africa’s children – especially black children.
“There is no doubt that this country has already lost many young lives as a result of the inability to swim,” lamented one parent in a letter published in The Star newspaper.
The writer urged the government to consider introducing swimming lessons which will be compulsory at all schools across the country, adding “one of the biggest challenges facing black children, in particular, is the inability to swim.”
It is estimated that in South Africa the number of children that die from fatal drownings every year could fill 10 busses.
The ability to swim is an essential life skill. But given the number of challenges facing government schools in South Africa, is teaching pupils to swim a reasonable expectation?
There is certainly no lack of effort on the part of organisations such as the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) efforts to fill this void.
According to its website, the NSRI has 19 full-time professional water safety instructors that visit schools across South Africa.
They teach children about water safety, what to do in an emergency, who to call for help, how to safely help a friend in an emergency and how to do CPR.
Its focus is on children from poor communities, where access to water safety information is limited and there is a dire need. These are the children who are most likely to drown.
Take responsibility for the water safety of your children
In the case of these two fatal drowning incidents, it appears as though there is an element of negligence in both cases.
That said, drowning can happen in a flash. It can happen in any age group, although toddlers and young children are most at risk.
Remember the story of Kailey Holian’s son Weston who was seven years old when he drowned metres away from her while her back was turned?
And ask yourself:
- Can I do CPR?
- Can my childminder do CPR?
- Can my childminder swim?
- Have I taught my childminder to rescue someone in the pool using the pool brush?
- Have I enrolled in a CPR course?
- Do I have an emergency plan for my childminder to implement as panic situations need prompt action?
- Is my pool a safe zone?