INFERNO ON THE WATER
YOU South Africa|28 October 2021
An African adventure turned into tragedy and a desperate race for survival on a KZN lake
SIPHOKAZI ZAMA

IT SOUNDS like a safari-loving holidaymaker’s dream: cruising on a luxury houseboat, your every need catered to while you survey the lush scenery and teeming wildlife in and around the lake.

For Lesley Millan Schroeder, her time on board the 12-person Shayamanzi houseboat as it drifted lazily down Lake Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal was the experience of a lifetime.

“The crew treated us like royalty and went out of their way to make our trip memorable,” she says.

But barely a week after she set foot on it, the boat was gone, destroyed by fire in a tragic event that claimed the lives of three people.

Among the victims was Michael Mirschel (64), a tourist who’d travelled from Germany with his two sons and their friends to savour the sights and sounds of the African bush from aboard the Shayamanzi.

Guests and crew were forced to leap into the freezing lake – the water was only about 5°C in the middle of the lake – when the fire started. Michael drowned, alongside crew chef Michael Chilizani Phiri (51).

A week later, police divers retrieved the body of deckhand Maxwell Bongani Nyawo (36), who’d also drowned.

His sister, Busisiwe Nyawo, is heartbroken.

“We are devastated,” she tells YOU. “This is the first time something like this has happened – it’s unbelievable. We’re still in shock and have so many questions about what could have gone wrong.”

Lesley is also battling to make sense of it all. Having lost a relative to drowning a few years ago, she takes water safety extremely seriously. “Before we went on board, my husband got a tour of the boat,” she says.

“The captain went through the safety protocols with us and explained how each person had a life jacket and a fire extinguisher in their cabin.”

The captain was at pains to ensure their safety, she adds, and even moved the boat to a more sheltered spot whenever the weather was rough. “There was no way we would’ve got on board if we’d felt unsafe in any way,” she says.

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