Two people are feared to have been killed after they were washed away while undergoing a cleansing ceremony in the Kliprevier river in Olifantsvlei, south of Johannesburg.
The City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) has confirmed the incident and that a search is underway for the bodies of an 18-year-old woman and a 21-year-old man.
The traditional healer who was performing the ceremony managed to get out of the river unharmed.
EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the incident happened on Saturday. He said the department was notified of the missing two people on Sunday and the search for the two bodies commenced.
“EMS Aquatic Rescue Unit together with Saps Water Wing are currently searching for two bodies washed away during a cleansing ritual,” he said.
Mulaudzi said traditional healers, prophets, and pastors are urged to ensure the safety of congregants while conducting cleansing or baptism rituals at all times. “People conducting rituals in rivers and streams should do so by considering the safety of their followers.
Last year, 16 people, including a three-month-old baby, drowned when heavy rains caused flash flooding at the Jukskei River in Alexandra. The people were participating in a baptism ceremony on 3 December.
Mulaudzi said this recent incident once again highlights the dangers of these rituals.
Mulaudzi, who was with officials at the scene where the ritual took place, said it is not clear how many people participated in the ceremony. “What we have been informed is that several people were part of the rituals and only two have been reported to have died.
“The South African Police Service are in touch with the families and will take further steps into their investigations,” he said.
He added that this summer the Johannesburg EMS will be conducting a safety campaign about cautioning the society about drowning. “We will be inviting pastors, prophets, and other people to conduct baptism and other rituals in rivers and streams.
At around 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, the officials had called off the search mission to be continued on Monday.
Meanwhile, the families of the missing people still hope that their beloved members will be found alive.