“He loved soccer and wanted to grow up to play soccer as a professional.”
Noli Mpokela repeats these words as she stares at a picture of her son, who drowned at Hout Bay Beach.
The death of 13-year-old Siseko “Junior” Mpokela, from Imizatho Yethu, has left a community in mourning.
Junior was visiting the beach with friends when he disappeared in the surf at about 2pm, on Sunday.
Lifeguards alerted Hout Bay’s National Sea Rescue Institute duty crew, and the Albie Matthews and Tintswalo Phoenix rescue crafts were launched to search for the missing boy, while other emergency services, including ambulance personnel and police divers, also responded.
“An extensive search commenced for a 13-year-old male missing in the surf. The local teenager had been swimming with a friend when he got into difficulty and disappeared underwater,” said NSRI Hout Bay station commander Geoff Stephens.
Rescue swimmers did “sweeping line free dive” searches while sea-rescue crafts searched the surf zone.
A crowd gathered on the beach, anxiously hoping for the best until Junior’s body was recovered from the shallow surf by the rescue swimmers and police divers.
Mr Stephens expressed his condolences to the boy’s family.
The Mpokela household is quiet and missing the jokes Junior was fond of making all the time, according to his mother.
“He was always making people laugh around him,” she said, tearfully. “I will miss all of that, and we will all miss him dearly.”
Junior was the vice-captain of IY soccer team, Barcelona, and a local coach, Joseph Nokwe, said the teen had been a very talented player and he felt fortunate to have met him.
“He always looked calm and never looked like he was pressured. He acted more like a captain for me, but I think that was not on his mind. He wanted to do well on the field, and, while doing that, he did not realise that he was doing well off the field too, because he was making so many people happy,” he said.
“He will be sorely missed, and people will notice that he is no longer playing. It’s really sad, such a great talent.”
IY community leader Kenny Tokwe said Junior was “another young bright talent taken away too soon”.
Mr Tokwe said he understood what Junior’s family was going through because he too had lost a child at sea, in a drowning almost 14 years ago.
“Yes, it’s shocking to see these children losing their lives so young. I still have trauma from when I lost my firstborn in that very same sea.”
He called for beach-safety programmes to be launched in the community to educate children about the dangers of the water.
“Our children need to be better prepared in order to prevent them from drowning. It’s still a pain for me to think about my own incident… so I can only imagine what the parents are going through. We need to come up with programmes to address this.”
Ms Mpokela now has the difficult task of doing what no parent ever wishes to do, which is to bury her eldest child. She plans to do so on Saturday February 26 in the Eastern Cape and has appealed to the public to help her with the funeral.
“I would really appreciate all the help I can get,” she said.
To help, call Mr Tokwe at 083 445 4716 or Ms Mpokela at 079 545 9636.