Chobe River Rescue Hero Calls For Training Facilities

  • Two lives lost, 10 saved as boat capsizes
  • Child among survivors as three boats rush to the rescue


Images of the 1997 American epic romance and disaster film “Titanic” were called to mind on Saturday 28 November as a speedboat overturned in the Chobe River in which two Batswana men lost their lives while 10 other people, among them a child, were rescued by nearby boats.
The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation says the accident is being investigated while accounts of eyewitnesses have spoken of the boat performing spins hours before it capsized.
The men who drowned are suspected to have been trapped under the vessel as it sank after it capsized. Three boats of Flame of Africa, a safari operator based in the resort town of Kasane, were nearby and helped prevent loss of more lives. The owner of these boats, Brett McDonald, is a trained commercial captain of the vessels and has trained his staff members who were crucial in helping rescue survivors of the boat that had capsized.
“Upon realising that people were helplessly drowning in water, we reached for our life jackets and one of my team members, Njeni Sankwasa, jumped into the water to save a child,” McDonald said, adding that all his employees conducted themselves professionally to save the 10 lives were Batswana.
“Three of my team who helped directly are Batswana,” McDonald noted. “The one who was piloting my boat was Moses. He drove so professionally and maneuvered it exactly where it needed to be, hence I was able to lean over the front and pull people out. Another, Njeni Sankwasa, piloted another vessel of mine called the Chubby Style Boat and reacted very quickly and even jumped into the water to save a child. The other guy was Bernard. He brought the speed boat that helped pick up the people.”
But McDonald said he was so traumatized by the whole ordeal that his heart rate skyrocketed to 126 beats per minute. “We got nine people between two of our boats and one in another one of our boats later when I heard there were others missing. My blood pressure rose,” he explained.
In the aftermath of the accident, McDonald is emphasizing the need for a proper training facility to improve the skills and abilities of boat drivers in Maun and Kasane where there is abundant water. “There is already a facility that we can go to and train in First Aid but it will be good if another training facility was made available to improve the skills of boat drivers,” he says.
The MP of the Chobe, who is also Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Machana Shamukuni, told The Botswana Gazette that there seems to have been a lapse in security and safety protocols because there were no life jackets on the boat that capsized which was also possibly overloaded. According to the junior minister, there are reports of tour guides going on the job with cooler boxes packed with alcohol in the Chobe Enclave.
“You cannot be a guide without undergoing certain training courses,” he said. “Professional guides should be trained to drive boats and be in possession of a driver’s licence.”
Perhaps because of insufficient training, observers say boats tend to drive at high speed and risk dangers of skidding. “We are selling a fragile product in Kasane,” Shamukuni said. “Once we disturb our good tourism reputation, it will hurt us in coming years.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), Dr Nyambe Nyambe, told The Botswana Gazette that the incident is under investigation.
Eyewitnesses say at the boat was doing circuit spins hours before the tragic accident.