Girl, 10, in critical condition after playground swing accident

Kimberley – A ten-year-old girl living at the Kimberley Correctional Services residential complex is on a ventilator at Mediclinic Gariep hospital after a swing set on which she was playing fell over.

Zoe Uithaler was swinging on the playground equipment on Saturday afternoon when the A-frame swing set toppled over.

Her grandmother, Yvonne Botha, said on Monday in the waiting room outside the high care unit at the hospital, that the children were playing outside at around 5 pm when the accident happened.

“Zoe was swinging and one of the other children was pushing her when the swing set fell over and she fell off, hitting her head.”

According to Botha, there are two swing sets in the playground area but only the one is cemented into the ground.

“The one Zoe was swinging on was not cemented into the ground and was just standing loose on top of the ground.”

Botha said Zoe ran screaming and crying into the house. “Her forehead was swollen and she was screaming that she was going to die.

“Her auntie tried to pacify her and calm her down and I went to fetch some sugar water.”

108394877 - Girl, 10, in critical condition after playground swing accident
Young Zoe Uithaler’s grandmother, Yvonne Botha.

She added that the children were always hurting themselves. “They will cry for a bit but then calm down and carry on playing.”

Botha said that when she saw the lump on Zoe’s head and realised that she was bleeding from her mouth and nose, she immediately called for an ambulance. “I told them it was urgent and they must come quickly.”

By the time Zoe was transported to hospital she had started fitting and lost consciousness. “The doctors put her on a ventilation machine to help her breathe and admitted her to the high care unit.”

By Monday, Zoe was still unconscious.

“They have drilled a hole in her skull to drain the fluid and release the pressure on her brain.”

Botha said that it was suspected that she had fractured her skull just above the eye.

“I truly believe that she will get better. We are praying non-stop. It is just hard because we cannot communicate with her.”

Botha said Zoe’s Grade 5 teacher at Flamingo Primary had visited the hospital.

“These are the only two pieces of equipment on the playground for the children at the Kimberley prisons and the children are always playing there. I never expected that something like this would ever happen.”

The family questioned why the equipment had not been properly installed and maintained.

“We moved there in May 2016. Although the children have fallen before, it was never anything serious so no one ever complained about the facilities. Instead, a tragedy like this had to happen before something is done.”

Zoe’s grandmother, who raised her since she was small, added that the swing was still lying in the playground. “It’s lying just like that where it fell. Nothing has been done despite what happened.”

The family indicated on Monday that they would consider pursuing civil litigation against the Department of Correctional Services.

Mediclinic Kimberley/Gariep spokesperson, Denise Coetzee, confirmed that Zoe Uithaler was in the hospital’s high care ward. “She is ventilated and in a critical condition.”

The Deputy Regional Commissioner of Correctional Services, Kenneth Mthombeni, said on Monday that the incident was very unfortunate and highly regrettable.

“It must be stated, however, that no official staying in the premises has reported to date that a member was injured in an accident,” Mthombeni stated.

“Responsibility must also start with the parent. This is not the child of an official of the department. If an official has visitors, he or she must take responsibility for their visitors. When one enters the premises it states that you are entering at your own risk.”

He further questioned why, if the swing was not cemented into the ground, the responsible adult allowed the children to play there.

“It is regrettable, but why would a parent allow a child to play in a dangerous place? The swing was not rooted in the ground so it was not safe – it was not a case that it had been tampered with.”

He added that after inspecting the site on Monday afternoon, he had ordered that the swing set be removed so that a similar incident would not occur again.

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