Cape Town, South Africa, is well-known as a tourist destination in part for its gorgeous beaches. People travel to the area for its nature, its culture, and maybe to end the day with a drink on the water.
That is precisely how Clair Gardiner and her daughter, Arya, wanted to spend their afternoon. They enjoyed lunch at a nearby restaurant, then decided to go watch the seals at the sea with a small crowd. But what was supposed to be a leisurely afternoon at the beach turned at the drop of a dime when a massive wave knocked everyone off their feet, into the harbor, and into a rip current.
The site of the rip tide. Credit: Brass Bell
“I still can’t believe what happened, it was such a nice sunny day, and suddenly just after lunchtime, the rip current started,” Tongai Matandirotya says.
“I saw this wave come over the harbor and it covered the people, dragging them into the ocean,” he says. “I immediately ran outside, undressed myself, and dived into the water because I saw a child go in as well. I have a very soft spot for kids, and my instinct just kicked in to see if I could help.”
Matandiroyta kept his belt in hand so it could be used to lead people back to safety. It’s with his belt that he was able to guide little Arya to safety, with her mother shortly behind. Another man, an unnamed tourist, joined in on Matandirotya’s efforts. Together, they were able to save those swept out to sea.
Only once everyone was safely back on shore did Matandirotya realize he was badly scratched against the harbor’s concrete wall. The injury did not bother him too much. “The scarring will probably be there permanently on my leg, but it’s okay; at least lives were saved,” he says.
A few days later, when everyone was properly taken care of and healing, Gardiner and her daughter returned to the restaurant where Matandiroyta works to personally thank him. Arya instantly recognized him, and the three embraced.
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