Durban – The Glenwood High School boy who became a hero when he braved a hostile crowd in Durban’s notorious Whoonga Park to rescue a woman injured in a hit-and-run accident five years ago, is about to graduate as a US Marine.
But red tape on the part of the South African and US authorities appears to be in the way of Gabriele Ronchese’s proud mother, Jill, attending the ceremony in San Diego, California, on June 14.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I just have to be there,” Ronchese told the Independent on Saturday.
Her troubles began when she tried to renew her South African passport within six months of expiry and a Home Affairs official told her there was no record of her having collected it when she first received it.
Ronchese’s battle with Home Affairs, first to resolve the official release of her passport and then to renew it, saw her wade through obstacles ranging from protest action to computers being offline at offices in Durban, Prospecton, Park Rynie, Scottburgh, Port Shepstone, New Hanover and Greytown. Her final effort, this month, saw her wake up at 2am to drive to Park Rynie to wait all day.
On May 16, the moment Ronchese received her passport, she immediately started an online application for a US visa. The process involves an interview at the consulate.
“But they can only grant me an interview on July 8. Gabriele’s graduation is on June 14.”
She said she had begged the consulate to treat her request as urgent and explained that her dilemma had been caused due to “the horrible conditions at Home Affairs”, but received no response.
Although Gabriele was born in the US, he has no family there, his mother said. She added he had been through an epic achievement, which he came through having broken a knee, and pneumonia, but still made it.
“He always wanted to go back to the US. It took him eight months to get through red tape and get into the Marines.
“When he applied, they told him ‘with your exam results and your size we’re not going to let you go’,” his proud mother said of what he had told her.
Apart from the unfavourable rand-dollar exchange rate, Ronchese said she was stressed about flights to the US becoming more expensive as high season approached.
Her efforts have also seen her write to the White House and to the US ambassador to South Africa, Jessye Lapenn, appealing to her “as a mother”.
Back in 2014, Gabriele’s hero moment happened when he and Jill were driving past Whoonga Park and noticed pandemonium in the road.
“I looked around, trying to see what on earth was going on. Then I saw this girl in a heap and a pool of blood,” Gabriele said afterwards.
His mother did not want to stop the car. “It didn’t look safe with whoonga druggies standing around, but Gabriele insisted,” Ronchese recalled.
“They had a terrible reputation, including killing people for money to feed their addiction. I was shaking, but Gabe took control and told them that he was qualified to help their friend as he has his Level Three Emergency First Aid certificate.
“They were happy with that and backed off. It helps to be over 2m tall and stay calm.”
Gabriele recalled feeling “a new kind of confidence” as he leapt through the crowd to his patient.
“First, I made sure her airwaves were open. There was lots of blood and vomit. Luckily she was in the foetal side position and I didn’t have to move her. It appeared that a tyre had gone over her head. Later I found out there were fractures.”
An ambulance arrived after 45 minutes, the police two hours later. While attending to the injured woman, he saw her going into shock and ordered a man who may have been her boyfriend to get blankets.
Gabriele had “the ride of my life” in the back of the ambulance, with sirens blaring,to King Edward VIII Hospital where he continued to help.
Singing Ronchese’s praises, Glenwood security veteran Heather Rorick said: “I think it was very noble, actually courageous that he rendered help without regard to his own safety. He showed there are good people out there.”
His headmaster at the time, Trevor Kershaw, said: “He is a fine young man and a good role model for the younger boys.”
Gabriele said, on reflection, he performed a knee-jerk reaction to obey what his mother had taught him, even though she had been reluctant to stop the car. “My mother taught me to do to others as I’d want done to me. That’s why I got out. I’d like someone to save my life if I were in that situation. How can I expect that if I haven’t done it for someone else?”
US consulate spokesperson Caroline Schneider said: “We cannot provide information about visa applicants or discuss the details of individual visa cases.
Ronchese said that she had just received an email from the consul.
“I will receive a formal invitation to come for an interview on Tuesday.”
Independent on Saturday