Memorial to healthcare heroes unveiled at Netcare 911 emergency helicopter crash site
A memorial commemorating the legacy of those who died when a Netcare 911 emergency helicopter crashed last year, was unveiled in a poignant and private ceremony yesterday at the site of the crash, near Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal. More than 100 family members and close friends from across the country attended the memorial to lay wreaths at the site and speak in loving memory of their loved ones. “I believe God selected Siyabonga to form part of the history of South Africa’s Healthcare,” said Nomsa Maselana, aunt of the late cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Siyabonga Curnick Mahlangu. “Through the enactment of this memorial site, Siyabonga will be remembered by many people in South Africa. He will be remembered even by people who never saw him. As the Mahlangu and Phakathi families, we are thankful to Netcare for this memorial site which will enable us to pay our respects to Siya and perform the family rituals whenever the family deems necessary,” she added.
Nomathemba Dlamini, the niece of specialist theatre nurse Sr Mpho Xaba who was one of the five killed in the helicopter accident said that the memorial site and hopefully many more visits to come in the future, would help the family in the journey towards finding healing and closure.
“We still look for him, hoping to see his beautiful smile and hear his laughter light up a room,” said Stacey Farrance, mother of emergency care practitioner, Sinjin Joshua Farrance. “What you have accomplished in your lifetime has always been phenomenal and you ran your race with purpose and a unique calling and for that we honour you.”
Mother of pilot Mark Stoxreiter, Wendy Macaskill, thanked those closest to her son for “making his life what it was. He was happy and he died doing what he loved,” she said.
Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive of Netcare said the company secured two hectares of land to preserve the site and design a memorial in a respectful and inclusive manner, ensuring all families were consulted and their guidance sought.
“We recognise the great significance of this site for the families, and this permanent memorial will remain here for the families and the loved ones to come to whenever they wish to. This space is sacred to the memory of our fallen heroes. We have erected this memorial in order to remember and to reflect on the exceptional lives of these individuals bearing witness to the extraordinary contribution that they each made in their own unique way. This space, this memorial, stands as a significant and eternal symbol and reminder to all of us that these individuals lived and died as heroes,” Dr Friedland added.
“We recognise that when we lose those we love there are no words, no memorials and no eulogies that can ever ease the pain because there is a tear in the fabric of our lives that can never be fixed. We continue to hold the families and loved ones in our hearts, fully cognisant that we will never be able to comprehend the extent of their loss and the profound vacuum their loved one’s passing has left. This horrific tragedy occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when healthcare workers across our country stood on the frontlines. Their remarkable bravery and sacrifices are not forgotten. In Netcare alone 75 frontline heroes lost their lives answering the highest call in the service of humanity. To recognise and pay tribute to all healthcare workers, across all sectors in South Africa, both in the private and public sectors, and with the permission of the families, they too have been included in the memorial,” Dr Friedland concluded.
At the ceremony, artist Marco Cianfanelli, who created the memorial in consultation with the families whose loved ones were killed in the helicopter tragedy, explained the significance of the design incorporating elements of granite, concrete, earthworks and landscaping and living components of seeded wild grasses and six indigenous wild olive trees.
An indelible scar
“Incorporating natural materials and processes, the memorial is intended to be in harmony with the surrounding land, yet resolute in the marking of what has disrupted it. It leaves an indelible scar, to be remembered and not forgotten, with the knowledge that the past lives into the future,” Cianfanelli said.
He explained that the form of the memorial, set on an expanse of gently sloping farmland, takes one down a concrete path following the helicopter’s flight trajectory on that tragic day “in a ritual of memory, of confronting what has transpired”. Ahead, the land is excavated in the shape of the African continent, echoing the remarkable and heartrendingly distinctive burn mark left on the veld when the helicopter wreckage set the grass ablaze.
The straight and level path, positioned on the central axis of the site, leads one to the crash impact site. “The exact site is marked by a large concrete surface, a flat resilient oval that has been articulated by long lines radiating from the central axis. The concrete is cut and scarified, forming lines of definition and disruption but also offering spaces for commemorative trees, benches and granite texts,” the artist described.
Three granite texts commemorate the lives of those who died in the helicopter crash, as well as the 75 Netcare staff and all healthcare workers who lost their lives to COVID-19 serving South Africa on the frontlines.
A testament to the lives lived
“Framing and holding this commemorative space are two large, grassed banks, shielding the view of surrounding farms, infrastructure and highway to direct one’s gaze inward, creating a sense of focus and quiet, of reflection and meditation. Toward the north and the south, distant mountain ranges can be seen, forming a synapse between the past and what lies ahead.”
He added that the act of shaping, seeding and planting is one of healing, of softening hard edges through growth and transformation. “It is symbolic of life, as the grass will wither in the winter but in the summer rain will collect in the deep trenches, transforming them into pools of water reflecting the sky and nurturing the land. This is a testament to the lives lived by the fallen, to their legacies of commitment, service, care and healing,” Cianfanelli concluded.