Family bids sad farewell to drowned teen

A recent school photo of Joshua.

The family of the Atlantis teenager who drowned at Melkbosstrand main beach say they won’t have peace until the ocean surrenders his body.

On Saturday November 4, family and friends of 14-year-old Joshua Joubert gathered for a memorial service at the beach where he drowned more than a week ago, and where his family have held a heart-breaking vigil since.

At the service, people cast flowers into the sea in honour of Joshua and other drowning victims.

The boy’s mother, Christal Joubert, told Tabletalk she had come to the beach with her family on Sunday October 29 when the City of Cape Town offered free MyCiTi bus rides.

They had come through early and had been ready to leave just before 4pm when Joshua and a family friend had decided to go back for a last swim.

“They came running to me saying Joshua is struggling in the water. I was shouting for people to help. I saw him struggling in the water. When I looked again he was gone,” said Ms Joubert.

She points to the spot where she saw his arms flailing in the air.

The police dive unit searched for his body every day last week going in as early as 6am.

Ms Joubert and a group of family and friends were there each morning hoping the body would be recovered.

But by Friday November 3 the search was called off.

“When I close my eyes, I see him struggling in the water. It is strange seeing his bed empty,” said Ms Joubert.

She described her eldest son, who attended Robinhill Special School in Atlantis, as a quiet child who had a stutter.

“He crept into everyone’s hearts — that’s why there’s so many people supporting us.”

She thanked the Melkbosstrand community for all their support. The family, who had a gazebo set up at the beach every day last week, had help from residents who donated coffee and food while they waited at the beach.

Angeline de Nobrega lives on the beachfront and brought food for the family every day.

An emotional Ms de Nobrega said her heart bled for the family. She also thanked the divers for doing their best, saying she had the utmost respect for them.

“I’ll be glad when the family gets closure. His body is here, but his soul is not,” she said.

Rhine Barnes, NSRI Melkbosstrand station commander, said they had not been alerted to the free-ride service that had been offered to the public and as the day had progressed it had become ever more apparent that more people were visiting the beach than normal “particularly with municipal pools closed due to water restrictions”.

Other sea-rescue stations around the Cape Peninsula had also reported a high influx to the beaches, he said.

“Being out of lifeguard season, NSRI crews were called in to man sea-rescue stations and conduct patrols after the noticeable increase in bathers became apparent.”

He said the NSRI would ask MyCiTi to alert sea-rescue services when it offered free trips in future.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, sympathised with the family saying the incident was “very sad”.

“The free MyCiTi bus rides were offered to the public in celebration of Transport Month and to promote public transport use among residents and visitors to Cape Town. As much as the City regrets this tragic incident, we are not responsible for commuters after they have reached their destination.”

He said the day on which Joshua drowned had been “the first perfect beach day of summer” and the beaches would have been busy regardless of the MyCiTi offer.

“I assume that the NSRI keeps track of weather patterns and would plan accordingly, in particular when good weather is predicted for a weekend, and in the light of many of the City’s public swimming pools being closed due to the current drought and water restrictions,” he said.

The free MyCiTi rides had also been widely advertised.

Mr Herron said the City’s festive-season traffic plan would account for more people visiting the beaches because of municipal-pool closures.

“I want to encourage all affected and interested parties to please plan accordingly,” he said.