“I want to start a swimming school for the children man and I want to stop all of this (poaching).”
These were the words of well-known Hangberg diver, Jonathan Dama, also known as Tin Tin, who spoke to Sentinel News last week about starting a swimming programme for children in the community.
On Sunday October 11, Mr Dama’s body was brought into the Hout Bay Harbour after being found underwater by fellow divers, shocking many as he was known to be a very good swimmer.
The self-confessed poacher gave Sentinel News an exclusive interview earlier this year, sharing details of his troubled life and explaining how poaching had helped to keep his head above water.
He once attempted to escape from police and was forced to swim with several kilos of illegal abalone strapped to him, but was eventually captured on Clifton Beach after a local spotted him exiting the water with the bag.
“I always dreamt of teaching other children how to swim and how to protect yourself in these waters. I know what I do is illegal, but I do have a skill that is not illegal and it’s something I can pass on to the children,” Mr Dama told the Sentinel.
News of Tin Tin’s death has shocked many around the fishing village, as he became the third diver this year to drown at sea.
It’s been nearly two months since Raymind Samuels was also found by community members at sea.
After a week-long search, his body was found and brought into the Hout Bay Harbour, where several community members looked on in shock. His body was found by two local divers, who were applauded for their efforts as they never gave up the search.
Rowena Smuts from Hangberg said she has still not come to terms with the news and said Tin Tin was known by all in the Hangberg community.
Her fondest memories was seeing him stop at the shop and buy sweets and chips for everybody’s children.
“He would come from the water, with his wetsuit and equipment in hand and the children would rush towards him because they knew he was going to buy them some stuff. He might have not be known for all the good things, but he had a very nice side to him,” she said, before bursting into tears.
When Ms Smuts first heard of the news, she refused to believe it was Tin Tin.
“He was a very good swimmer and he was always talking about becoming a swimming coach. That is why when they told me, I couldn’t believe it because this is a man that swam during the night from Robben Island to Clifton, with a bag of perly (abalone) on his back,” Ms Smuts.
“But I suppose, you can be how good of a swimmer, when God calls you, you must go.”
Another close friend and fellow diver, said he could not believe seeing his friend being brought into the harbour that way.
He chose to remain anonymous, saying: “I am not so brave like him. I also dive in these waters illegally, but he knew he had people to support and never showed any fear. He even could tell us when he was going to be arrested for something.”
The anonymous diver added that the pandemic had forced many more youngsters in the community to dive the waters to make a quick buck.
“People are not working in this community and people are desperate. There are guys that have children, babies and even parents they are looking after. When you cannot find work, you come home and you see the ocean in front of you, what are you going to do if you are the man of the house with nothing in your cupboards and fridge? You are going to get in that water and pull whatever you can,” he said, staring into the ocean wondering how it all went wrong for Tin Tin.
Peace and Mediation Forum chairperson, Jan Lewis, said with the unemployment rate on the rise, many more are feeling the pinch and turning their attention to the sea.
“This is a fishing community and due to the unemployment rate, we are forced to go to sea. The historical factors must be taken into account in finding a resolution to the challenges facing the Hangberg fishing community and that many of the Hangberg residents ancestors lived for generations in the area known today as Hout Bay , that made a living out of the sea,” he said.
He added that it was equally important to provide proper training for the youth looking to dive in the ocean.
“It will also be good if diving training can be made available for the youth in order for them to learn how to make a living out of the sea. If training was provided, we can try and avoid many of these drownings,” Mr Lewis added.
The National Sea Rescue Institute said they were not part of the recovery of the body and Hout Bay Police failed to respond to media queries at the time of going to print.