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ETHEKWINI, South Africa (Reuters) -“Brave and fearless” is how colleagues remember South African police diver Busisiwe Mjwara, who drowned a week ago while searching for flood victims during one of the country’s worst natural disasters in living memory.
Torrential rains on April 11-12 triggered a deluge of muddy destruction that claimed around 435 lives and displaced thousands of people as homes and roads were swept away in widespread damage initially estimated at 10 billion rand ($639.6 million).
Part of multiple, challenging search and rescue operations, Sergeant Mjwara, a 42-year-old mother of two, was pulled from the swollen Msunduzi River close to the port city of Durban where she was trying to locate three missing people, before getting into difficulty herself on April 17.
She was airlifted to hospital but declared dead on arrival.
A K9 rescue dog, Leah, from a separate search and rescue unit, died trying to assist Mjwara, police said in a statement.
“She was fearless, brave and dedicated and she served with all her heart,” Sergeant JA Mare, who worked with Mjwara, said as his voice cracked with emotion at her funeral service in a packed city hall on Friday.
“And all the time I spent with her, Busi was, Busi is a kind, loving, warm-hearted, strong woman, a dedicated mother,” Mare, sobbing, as two colleagues supported him on either side.
The service, where Mjwara’s coffin was draped in the national flag and a choir sang traditional Zulu church hymns, was attended by senior politicians and police officers.
Members from her tightly-knit Hilton K9 search and rescue unit, where she was one of only two women divers, stood holding hands, mourning over her coffin.
“She did not die in vain, she did not die for herself, she also didn’t die for her family, she died for the nation. Why would you not be proud of that?” said Minister of Police Bheki Cele.
Mjwara’s family, however, were struggling to come to terms with their loss, given her swimming experience and training.
“Until today, I am still waiting for a real explanation about what happened,” Mjwara’s brother, Sibonelo Shangase said at the service.
($1 = 15.6345 rand)
(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Wendell Roelf; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)