Searching in the dreaded waters for a drowned man
Boarding the Botswana Defence Force boat and joining the soldiers and the police into the Boteti River was no blissful experience.
An inborn nature lover that I am, a pang of sympathy cut across my stomach as I looked at the agonised faces standing by the riverbank.
They were looking at us in hope that on our return we will bring tangible confirmation to the obvious answer that is already inscribed in their minds. The body of their drowned son.
It was at Makalamabedi village approximately 72km South-east of Maun. Last Saturday at around 15:00hrs, a fishermen’s canoe capsized and out of the two men that were rowing it one was rescued and the other drowned. We were searching for the remains of Mpho Kopano (23).
It was on Tuesday at 14:30, when a soldier assisted me into the life jacket, after that I jumped into the boat. Salamba Samunzala of Radio Botswana and I were the only journalists on the boat with four police officers and six soldiers. Three of them were scuba divers.
Ten minutes later, the boat engine was growling and with a little push from the bystanders off we went. About three metres away from the bank we dropped the scuba divers, they dived deep down the water and disappeared.
We learnt that the drowning spot is where we are leaving the scuba divers as we eastwards follow the flow. The search is no easy one because underneath the deep dark waters there is plenty of vegetation.
There were also some dead trees and fenced poles, a sure sign that in the previous years the river had been dry and residents digging wells to source water.
Despite the disadvantages that we faced, we were all highly alert with eyes darting to and from like those of a jacana bird in search of a catch. According to our leader Inspector Obuseng of Maun police, drowned persons usually float once life has ebbed out of them.
He also laid out the possibility that the body might have been long driven by the flow to a further distance or stuck somewhere amid the vast vegetation. Suspicions of Kopano having being munched by crocodiles are less but the Inspector isn’t ruling out the possibility. “Even though no crocodile has been witnessed here when a river is replenishing its water carries along all sorts of dangerous creeping creatures,” he says.
At 15:45hrs, we were back at the riverbank and the search had been futile. I looked at the village Chief solely sitting under a thorn bush and cutting a pathetic figure and my heart went out to him. We have roved the boat and rowed the water for a distance of close to three kilometres from the scene of disappearance but in vain.
Maun station commander Joubert Kome said the villagers had been in search since the incident occurred. He and his man joined them soon after receiving the report and since then they had been there from sunrise to sunset.
According to the survivor, 20-year old Moitshepi Ramangana of Makalamabedi village, he and the missing man went into the middle of the river to fetch water under the belief that the flow close to the bank was dirty. Kopano had shunned his girlfriend who had wanted to go along with them.
Ramangana further said once inside the river, they filled their water containers but Kopano failed to pull out the last one that he held.
He lost control, staggered and the canoe capsized along with him. Both men went along with the canoe and their containers.
“I screamed for help as we all fought for our lives. Kopano seemed a better swimmer than I because he was paddling the water with his hand in front of me and heading for the bank. That is how the rescuers came for me thinking that he was going to make it on his own. But within some minutes he had silently disappeared and never to be seen again,” he said.