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Children try stop their father drowning in the Vaal

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A teenage girl and her younger brother are battling to pick up the pieces after doing everything they could to save their father from drowning in the Vaal River earlier this month.

On the weekend of 9 October, Steyn Saayman, 44, known as “Big Man” had planned a fun weekend away with his two children Michaela, 16, and Tyler, 9, who are King David School Linksfield scholars.

The three of them were going to spend quality time together on a hired houseboat on the river. They hired the boat on Saturday morning, and things were going well. They planned to suntan, fish, and braai, and young Tyler even hit a few golf balls off the boat. But tragedy struck at about 16:00 near Vaalview. It’s understood that Saayman, a heavyset man, may have lost his balance and landed overboard after a speedboat sped past causing waves. It left his anguished children alone to try to rescue him.

Their mother, Renee, said Michaela was at the wheel and Tyler was on the sundeck above when they heard a loud splash and realised their father was in the water.

“They started screaming,” she said.

“He told them not to panic, that it was going to be fine, but they should try to hurry with help as he was getting tired,” she said.

It’s unclear exactly what happened in the frantic minutes that followed, but a terrified Michaela tried to turn the heavy boat around in a bid to reach her father who was flailing.

“She was scared that he would get in the way of the propellers,” said Renee.

Tyler meanwhile, ran to the top of the boat and began waving for help. He switched the boat’s engine off and the children tried to throw a rope into the water which sadly, their father battled to reach. They continued to wave frantically for help, but according to Renee, people misunderstood their waves for friendly greetings. Eventually a young family stopped to help when they realised the children were in distress. By that stage, Steyn had disappeared under water. It had taken just minutes, and it was difficult to find him.

“My daughter called me from the boat on her cell phone, sobbing hysterically that her dad had fallen in the water and they couldn’t find him. I asked her what happened, where they were, and if she could find any emergency number to call,” Renee said.

“The young family stayed with them when they got to land. I got there as fast as I could.”

According to a report in the Vaalweekblad, police divers started their search for Saayman as soon as they were alerted. His body was found on Tuesday morning, three days after the fateful incident.

“I’m devastated, full of mixed emotions. I’m so sad that my two little heroes had to witness this,” said Renee.

Steyn was a bodyguard who was well known in the security industry. “This wasn’t the way we thought he’d go,” said Renee. “We’d always thought it would be a shooting or a high-speed vehicle accident in his dangerous line of work.”

In a eulogy to him read at his funeral, Renee described the children’s father as “a gentle giant”, a man with a “large presence and just as big a heart”.

She said he was a “multifaceted man, a man that would have risked his life for others”.

“Steyn was always there to rescue everyone around him in need. He was everyone’s saviour, but sadly, as hard as his kids tried, there was no saving him.

“Steyn came out of so many vehicle accidents and shootings unscathed, which is so ironic in the line of duty he was in,” Renee said.

She said he “lived for his kids” and always joked, saying to them, “daddy has to go out and work to earn money to buy milk and nappies”.

“He lived and breathed work, and vowed that he would never let his kids go without what he had as a child.

“He always made his presence visible, not only in terms of his large stature, but with flashing lights and sirens. He was known as the guy with the black BMW who after his late-night shifts, would patrol the surrounding streets before he went home. No one ever feared when Steyn was near.”

She said he “worked hard, lived hard, and played just as hard”.

An official inquest is being conducted to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. The family is waiting for the autopsy results.

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