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28 December 2011

Girl’s brave swim to safety near the Blue Valley Golf Estate in Midrand.

This red Honda Ballade carrying a family of three was washed into the Blue Valley Golf Estate dam in Midrand due to flooding because of heavy rainfall. Picture: Pretoria Water Police Unit

A 12-year-old girl clung to a tree branch for more than an hour after the car she was in had been washed off a low-lying bridge and into a dam at the Blue Valley Golf Estate in Midrand.

And when help arrived, she tried to fight off the security guard so that she could climb back into the swollen dam to search for her father and grandmother, who were still inside the car.

Shortly before midnight on Monday night, a red Honda Ballade tried to make its way over the bridge in the upmarket estate. They had been visiting relatives over the Christmas weekend.

A storm was raging and the bridge was covered in water, with the current so strong, it pulled the car into the dam.

The father, a 40-year-old businessman who lives in Meadowlands, Soweto, was driving. His 71-year-old mother was in the passenger seat. In the backseat sat Tshegofatso Dithung.

Her mother, Fundi Ndaba, described the bridge the family tried to cross as an “ocean”. The mother requested that her daughter’s picture and the names of her father and grandmother not be released.

“The doors of the car were locked. It had central locking and she couldn’t get out,” said Ndaba. “The car was still floating then, and her dad told her to stay inside, that it was safer.”

But Tshegofatso realised the car was filling up with water, so she opened the window and climbed out. Tshegofatso held on to the top of the car, until she found a log to hold on to.

“She was in the water and she was screaming for help,” Ndaba said.

Ndaba said she had recently built a swimming pool at her home and her daughter had taught herself to swim.

“She used the backstroke to get to the edge of the dam,” said Ndaba. “There she clung onto the branch of a tree calling for help.”

Fidelity security guard Kabelo Masakgona was on his way to the bridge to block it off because of the high rainfall. He received a call from the control room alerting him that someone was screaming for help at the dam.

A few seconds later he arrived and heard the screams coming from the edge of the dam.

His operations manager, Wayne van Wyk, said Masakgona called emergency services, and he entered the strong water to rescue her.

“He was able to reach out and grab the young girl by her clothing and drag her against the strongly flowing water to the embankment,” Van Wyk said.

“She screamed that he should let her go so that she could go into the water to try get them (her father and grandmother) out.”

Masakgona instead took the frantic girl to his patrol car to calm her down.

A resident of the estate said that within 10 minutes, police had arrived and started the search for the car.

The child’s uncle, who also did not want to be identified, had driven over the same bridge a few minutes before.

“There was water, but it was drivable. I got lost in the estate and I went over that bridge,” he said.

The rain was falling so hard that when his brother tried to cross half an hour later, his car was swept away.

“It rained and rained and it carried on raining for two hours,” the man said.

He said paramedics took a boat out onto the dam and searched for the car for more than two hours, but the rain began to make the search unsafe and it was handed over to the Tshwane police diving team.

They took up the search at 6am on Tuesday morning, but were delayed because of a lack of diving equipment.

The Joburg unit arrived to assist, and the search began in earnest.

Tshwane water dive unit member Frans Spong said the diving team found the car at about 10am on Tuesday. It was 3.5m below the water.

Spong said they hauled the car up and found the bodies of the father and grandmother inside the vehicles.

Ndaba said her very traumatised daughter had known her father was dead, but she found out about her grandmother only on Tuesday night.

- The Star