One death too many

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A man in the prime of his youth lost his life this week. No, he was not killed by Covid nor by synthetic drugs which we have just learnt we are the biggest consumers of in Africa – a position we hitherto occupied for all the positive indicators. No, he wasn’t a victim of the suicide pandemic hitting the country. He was simply zip lining at Domaine de Chazal, owned by Frédéric Robert’s company.

Akilesh Gopalsing’s death is not a fait divers. It is not the story of someone who was speeding and met his death due to carelessness. Nor is his death the result of taking excessive risks. It is a manifestation of a laisser-aller that has invaded almost every sphere of this country. Akilesh’s mistake is that he put his life in the hands of what he thought were professionals, perhaps thinking that by paying a high price for a recreational activity, he would be safe. But he wasn’t, was he?

After his death, a deafening radio silence was followed by a communiqué announcing an inquiry. After people die, they now go and check whether or not they were doing everything right to prevent death! Sadly, this inquiry reminds me of another one into the death of a young boy four years ago at…Domaine de Chazal!

Full disclosure: the lovely, well-mannered boy – Shyamal Sewraj who was 18 at the time – was not unknown to me. I have known his family for years so I had a front seat in the tragedy that unfolded. The starting point was a family outing paid for through the nose. While the parents stayed back at a ranch, the brother and sister went to explore the area in the company of a professional guide. Or so they thought. While Shyamal was swimming in a whirlpool, in front of the guide, he began to drown. His sister started screaming and trying to pull him out. From what I understand and without prejudice to the inquiry, the guide did not come to rescue because…he did not know how to swim! So he helplessly watched as the sister was desperately trying to save her brother alone! As the current was too strong and kept pulling Shyamal down, he let go of his sister’s hand to save her life. I let you imagine the agony, the guilt, the sadness and the void the family has had to live with ever since.

The domaine’s reaction? Radio silence again. Not a visit, not a phone call, not even a ‘sorry for your loss’ note. A judicial inquiry started four years ago and is still ongoing. The family was so devastated they refused to talk about this. This second death must have opened old wounds.

Of course, Domaine de Chazal is a business so its aim is to make money. The people ultimately responsible are those who are paid to ensure that we are safe before giving permits left, right and centre. A good start is for them to tell us what happened since Shyamal’s death to prevent another tragedy. What mechanisms are there in place in general to ensure we are safe when we participate in any activity licensed by the authorities?

If you want the answer, just look at the state of our roads and the potholes that are becoming deeper and deeper and frighteningly dangerous. No one cares because no one seems to be in charge. The country is on autopilot. And Shyamal will have died for nothing!

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