“Henro Ter Borg was not a hero,” a Facebook post declared after the 21-year-old died, along with two other seamen, rescuing workmen at the naval base in Durban.
“He is a hero and will always remain a hero,” the post by naval officer Xolisani Makuleni concluded.
The tribute was one of many that followed a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) statement announcing the young man’s death.
The Brackenfell High School old boy, who was a member of the Maritime Reaction Squadron, had been on a tour of duty in Durban for Armed Forces Day celebrations at the time of his death on Friday February 17.
“The Military Police with members of the South African Police Service will investigate the matter and in addition the Chief of the SA Navy has convened a board of inquiry,” said the SANDF statement.
The tragedy happened when workmen fixing a sewage valve were overcome by gas fumes in a pit.
One of the contractors ran for help and stopped the Maritime Reaction Squadron bus.
Henro, along with Arithmetical Tothara Ramdin, 41, from Durban, and Francois William Mundell, 26, from George, raced to the workers’ aid. But they too were overcome by the fumes after descending into the pit.
It took officers using breathing apparatus to pull the three seamen and three workers from the pit. Despite efforts to resuscitate them, all six perished.
The SANDF statement said the three seamen had shown great “courage and bravery” in “unbearable conditions” and had “paid the ultimate price” putting the lives of fellow South Africans before their own.
Friends, relatives, comrades and even strangers were struck by the news.
A friend of Henro, Timothy Smith, said on Facebook: “I can’t believe you’re gone forever. Such an awesome person. Rest in peace, my friend. See you in heaven.”
Comrade Sarena Narainsamy posted: “What do I say? Where do I even begin? I am lost for words. It was just a few days ago that we all travelled together for the same purpose, little did we know that we were going to lose you. You were a great friend, a brother to the men you served with. You always ensured your friends were okay and well. It’s with a heavy heart that we have to bid farewell to you.”
Family friend Karen Nortier gave an interesting insight into Henro’s character with her post: “Ai jong, words cannot describe how I am feeling. Gaan jou so baie mis, Henro – jou smile, jou ‘ja tannie’, ‘nee tannie’, die harde musiek wanneer jy by ons huis stop, ‘belowe ek en Miguel sal tannie laat weet wanneer ons veilig by die huis is’ ens. Baie dankie dat ek jou kon ken – jy was soos een van my kids. RIP.”
Antoinette Grobler addressed her post to Henro’s family: “We are proud of our boys in uniform. Your son showed us we have good reason to be.”