Years after two children died at the ZambiBush water park in the north of Pretoria, there is finally progress with the judicial investigation to determine whether someone can indeed be held accountable for their deaths.
The parents of the two children – Aiden du Toit (10) and Bohlale Mokoena (7) – are convinced there is enough evidence of negligence and want to ask the court to lay charges of murder against the owners of ZambiBush. The children died in separate incidents at this water park in 2017.
The case continued last week with an on-the-spot investigation at ZambiBush and the state called its first witness, Jaco Visser, formerly a development control officer at the Tshwane metro’s city and regional planning department. Among other things, Visser testified about the zoning disputes between ZambiBush and the metro – including that the park was not zoned to be operated as a water park. His testimony will continue at the end of August when the case is heard again.
In addition to Visser’s testimony, certain information has now also been placed on record by the stakeholders in the case.
“The families are relieved there is movement. It stood still for five, six years,” Willem Koekemoer, the Du Toits and Mokoenas’ lawyer, told RNews.
“These parents are just looking for answers.”
The inquest began briefly in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court last year, but then dragged on again.
This was already a year after the children’s parents received their summons to testify before the court in the investigation. Dries Nel, director of ZambiBush, and his brother Bruwer Nel, owner of the premises, were also summoned to testify as interested parties in the investigation. ZambiBush was also sued as a business entity.
RNews earlier reported that Aiden died at the water park on November 29 after he presumably bumped his head on a water slide. A post-mortem examination confirmed that he died of a head injury and resulting complications.
Bohlale’s body was found two months before Aiden’s death in one of the swimming pools at ZambiBush – a day after he was reported missing. Maggie Mokoena, Bohlale’s mother, told RNews at the time that her child’s death was still unexplained.
Park now ‘koi farm’
Koekemoer was present at the on-site investigation last week and says that the park is now a koi farm. Apparently it is no longer operated as a park at all.
Most of the slides have been torn down – including the one on which Aiden is said to have been hurt – and the pools have all been turned into fishponds.
“It has been documented that it is cheaper to maintain fish than to buy chlorine for the swimming pools,” said Koekemoer.
‘We are looking for a murder charge’
Koekemoer also says that they plan to call a lot of witnesses who, among other things, will give evidence regarding the zoning, management of the park, slides and swimming pools during visits to the park.
This includes, among other things, that on the day of Aiden’s death, there was apparently not a lifeguard at the specific slide and pool where Aiden was hurt. The nearest lifeguard was said to be 40 meters away.
Koekemoer is positive that there was enough evidence of negligence and says that he will ask the court for a murder charge against the owners of ZambiBush.
Although the children’s families are grateful that there is now progress with the investigation, it remains “exhausting” and they are still struggling to find closure.
“It remains an emotional situation.”
The inquest continues on 28 and 29 August in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court. Meanwhile, the civil case between Du Toit and the Nel brothers regarding Aiden’s death also continues separately.
Another person died at another water park
According to Koekemoer, it has since come to his attention that a third person died under similar circumstances to Aiden at another park which is operated by the same owners as ZambiBush.
André Etsebeth died on 7 October 2018 at the Hennops Lifestyle Resort (also known as Hennopspride) near Centurion. He presumably bumped his head on a slide and drowned in the pool.
Janie Venter of Barnard Incorporated represents Etsebeth’s fiancee, Sophia Stemmet, in a civil claim of more than R8.7 million in damages against Hennops Lifestyle Resort.
Stemmet and Etsebeth were engaged since 2012 and lived together as a family. According to Venter, Etsebeth supported Stemmet and her children financially.
“The claim is opposed. The case is at an advanced stage and the parties have recorded their versions and the trial date has yet to be determined,” Venter told RNews.
“The suspicion is that André bumped his head when he slipped down the red slide at the resort. He may have lost consciousness, washed out and then drowned in the pool.
“The post-mortem examination report shows that André suffered a blow to the head and that he died due to drowning. The report also shows that Andre was under water for at least 15 minutes.”
According to Venter, Etsebeth was discovered by Stemmet’s nine-year-old son, when his mother called to come and help.
“Sophia pulled André out of the pool herself. Our case is that Hennops Lifestyle Resort had certain obligations, but that they failed to fulfill these duties.
“That day, Sophia waited six and a half hours next to André’s body for the hearse to come pick him up. The resort did not close or turn guests away during this time and continued as normal. Guests were not even asked to leave the pool.
“To date, Hennops Lifestyle Resort has not offered any emotional support to the family. For them, this claim is about more than just the money, they are all suffering from severe trauma.”
Owners are sufficient by innocence
In a statement by Shanette Jacobs, their legal representative, the Nel brothers told RNews that it is sufficient that they are innocent, and have confidence in the legal system that the investigation will be fair.
“We have and always will be determined to cooperate fully with law enforcement authorities and we trust the objectivity and impartiality of the justice system.
“We recognize the importance of due process and the fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty.”
The Nel brothers say that it must also be kept in mind that all the “court proceedings are emotionally taxing”.
“We appreciate the outpouring of support from family, friends and well-wishers who are assisting us in this challenging time, and would like to thank our legal teams and other experts for their dedication, expertise and tireless efforts to assist us and ensure that the truth prevails.
“We appeal to the public to respect our privacy and that of our family during this inquest.”
The brothers also request the public to refrain from any speculation that could harm the court proceedings.
“Our legal teams have informed us that the purpose of an inquest is not to prosecute individuals, but rather is an opportunity to assist the court in gathering facts that may be relevant to the death of the deceased. Accordingly, a decision will be made as to whether criminal prosecution should be instituted against any party.
“The inquest is expected to be conducted thoroughly and meticulously, and we look forward to our day in court and the opportunity to assist the court in the investigation. We have full confidence in the legal process and appeal to the public to allow the case to take its course.”