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An Unsung Namibian Hero

By: Josia Shigwedha

Percy Openshaw has retrieved hundreds of bodies since he started diving 35 years ago.He is an independent diver who willingly, in some instances, dives into septic and filthy water to recover drowning victims.

Openshaw (51) perfected his passion for diving and helping people by attending an advanced medical rescue and intermediate life support course. He is usually informed of incidents by the Namibian police or the City of Windhoek Emergency Services department. Recently, when Openshaw arrived in Grysblock to retrieve the body of a six-year-old boy who had drowned, he was met with cheers from onlookers.

Openshaw said 90 percent of calls he responds to are people without medical aid and volunteers his services. “I will give services for free but we work on merits. If you are a CEO of a company, we will invoice you. But those who cannot afford it, we will help for free. We will not deny services because you cannot afford it.”

His decision to help others in such difficult circumstances came after losing his son to an accidental shooting about two decades ago. He couldn’t afford the N$18 000 for a private emergency ambulance to transport his son from a farm to Windhoek for medical treatment. Openshaw decided he will not refuse people help due to finances.

First diving experience

Openshaw said it was in 1989 when a married couple, with marital problems visited Goreangab dam with their three young girls. He said the three girls got onto a blow tube and went in the water while the parents sat and talked their problem through. Unfortunately, the tube punctured and Openshaw was called to the scene. He said two young girls died while one survived. “It was my first event and I saw there is a need to make it (diving) a career. I also realised that we don’t have water personnel in the country.”

The former police officer, who was born in Oshakati now, owns a crisis emergency service that provides ambulance services, responds to motor vehicle accidents, snake, bee catching and wild animals with rabies just to mention a few. “I don’t get paid for that (diving). We are doing that to help the community. There is no one else willing to do it. Previously, the bodies were left in the water until they started floating, that may take three, four, five days,” said Openshaw, adding that by retrieving bodies he was giving family members closure.

Diving is a risky exercise if the water is septic or filthy. The diver stands a chance of contracting Hepatitis, bacterial and viral infections- for Openshaw, he spent a total of N$ 3000 on antibiotics. "As soon as I get out of the water, I try to wash off with clear water. I get to the Fire Brigade so that they spray me with clean water immediately. Then when I get back to the office, I bath with chlorine, then I start antibiotics treatment for seven days. That normally stops the big infections but the eyes and ear infections occur but that is not life threatening,” remarked Openshaw who does not have medical aid.

Psychological impact

When questioned about the psychological effects of recovering bodies, Openshaw responded that he does not get emotionally involved with the victim’s family. “I cut off (when I retrieve the body). I go into tunnel vision. I can tell you, that yes, I went to do a diving recovery, but I won’t tell you if it was a boy or girl or an adult. I don't have bad dreams. I don't have psychological problems. For me, when I am done with the recovery, I get in my vehicle. I don’t stay there. I don’t meet the family members,” remarked Openshaw.

Openshaw, who is near retirement, urged the youth to pursue careers that will benefit the community.


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