Coast KZN

08 Nov 2023

Lack of essential lifeguard equipment compromises Umdloti bather safety

Jacqueline Herbst (North Coast Courier) Picture: Umdloti lifeguards have only four worn-out torpedo buoys left with which to perform rescues

With the festive season fast approaching and Umdloti lifeguards grossly under resourced, bather safety has come into question. Documents obtained by the Courier confirm Umdloti lifeguards were last issued rescue equipment in 2018. Subsequent equipment requests submitted to senior management at eThekwini Municipality as far back as July 2019 had not been approved.

However, City spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said this was no longer the case, with R27-million set aside in the current financial year ending June 2024 for rescue equipment for all eThekweni beaches. A tender has already gone out and she said equipment will be supplied before the end of the financial year. Whether this will be in time for the holidays remains to be seen.

Umdloti lifeguards have been working from a temporary container for eight years.

Visiting the run-down north beach lifeguard container last week, the Courier met some genuinely passionate lifeguards who try to make a difference. They work under trying circumstances with very little rescue and personal protective equipment – and no ablution facilities.

With three beaches to protect, an experienced lifeguard, who asked not to be named, said Umdloti lifeguards needed at least ten torpedo buoys and three malibu boards. They currently only have four torpedo buoys and one malibu board that floats. The quad bike and boat are broken, and they do not have a jet ski, which makes it extremely difficult to respond quickly to multiple drownings.

Lifesaving South Africa patrol guidelines stipulate that a potential drowning victim at a beach should be identified within 30 seconds and reached within 120 seconds.

Umdloti’s rip waters routinely see groups of people swept out to sea, such as on Easter weekend when nine people got into difficulty in three incidents.

The brick and mortar lifeguard tower that contained public toilets and showers was demolished eight years ago.

Bathers often have the bravery and quick reaction of local surfers to thank for their lives.

The lifeguards are also short of uniforms, leading to altercations with the public when they have to intervene and are not identifiable as lifeguards. In winter, they fear getting hypothermia because they do not have jackets and wetsuits. Sisilana said new uniforms would be bought out of the current financial year’s operational budget.

The lifguards also endure difficult working conditions. The old brick and mortar lifeguard tower that also contained public toilets and showers was condemned and demolished more than eight years ago in June 2015. The showerhead, taps and geyser were stolen from their temporary container bathroom months ago and lifeguards are left to rinse themselves with a five-litre water bottle after training and performing rescues. Their toilet is also blocked up as the pipes have been vandalised and stolen.

Sisilana said there was no provision for the building of a new lifeguard tower in the current mid-term revenue expenditure framework, but it would be considered in future budgets. In spite of the shortcomings, the City remains confident that bather safety is not at risk.

“These issues have not hampered our lifeguard services at Umdloti. While we await procurement of new work tools, the ones in existence are still in use. We are intentional with ensuring that bathers at our beaches are always safe in the presence of lifeguards and we would never put them in danger,” said Sisilana.