Anyone who has ever planned a wedding can tell you that it’s no mean feat. In fact, it’s arguably one of the most stressful experiences one can undertake. Yet, like most brides the world over, Zanele had still dreamed about her wedding day.
She had done all the requisite planning, had taken care of all the excruciating details, and was looking forward to the new life she was about to build with her husband-to-be. Fate, however, had different ideas…
Featured photo credit: www.mirror.co.uk
Eighteen months before that, 25-year-old Zanele, a former tennis player, had met Jamie, a British charity worker a few years older than her. The two hit it off right away and though they were from what felt like two different worlds, they soon found that their similarities, specifically their love for one another, transcended global boundaries.
Roles to Play
They had met when Jamie was on a work programme in Zimbabwe. They had visited each other a number of times before he decided to finally propose, on Valentines Day. Nervous as he was, he approached her family in the traditional way, paid the bride price, and luckily, she said yes. While she planned the wedding, he sorted out her visa so she could move back to England with him…
Before they tied the knot, however, Jamie and Zanele wanted to have one last African adventure. They wanted to do something neither of them had ever done before. To this end, they decided on a sort of “pre-wedding honeymoon” tour on the Zambezi River. It would end up being the ride of their lives.
The happy couple canoed down the Zambezi towards the legendary Victoria Falls, a mile-long, towering 350-foot waterfall that has drawn thrill seekers and adventurers to the area for centuries. The power rapids leading up to the falls are a danger in and of themselves, but so is what lurks in the waters below…
Most of the trip was uneventful, but no sooner had the party of adventurers made some headway through the rapids towards the base camp, then they felt something crash into their boat. What they didn’t know at the time, was that it wasn’t a rock or a loose log, but a 16 foot ball of scaly, razor-tipped man-eating crocodile.
The boat was rocked but steadied. A moment later, the crocodile then bit into the canoe, which puncturing the pontoon and flipped the boat over. Zanele Ndlovu, Brent Williamson, the owner of the tour company, were both tossed into the rushing river: where the crocodile’s hungry jaws awaited them all…
What a Croc
The monster was a Nile crocodile, the second-largest reptile in the world. These enormous creatures are commonly found all throughout sub-Saharan Africa, in shallow waters and rivers. Their territorial nature and voracious appetite have earned them a reputation as man-eaters, and they account for a few hundred deaths and disappearances in Africa every year.
Most of the people there that day don’t know exactly what happened next, but it’s possible that, without realizing where she was or what had hit them, Zanele stepped on the prowling, agitated crocodile. It clamped its massive jaws down on her upper biceps. A crocodile’s jaws are almost inescapable and like it or not, Zanele was soon pulled under the water…
Norman, a trainee who had accompanied them, gripped Zanele’s life jacket for dear life and tried his best to pull her into his own canoe. Unfortunately, the crocodile was too strong and it’s sheer strength pulled him into the river as well. To his credit, he never let go, even as another trainee pulled him out of the water…
Williamson, who was also in the water, floundering to get his boat back upright, saw it then, the crocodile went in for the kill. The animal used it’s favored move, something called a death roll, in which the reptile spins with the prey in its jaws to drown, dismember or incapacitate it. Zanele was going to die in that river…
Out of Nowhere
Meanwhile, her fiance Jamie Fox, was also in the overturned boat, struggling to right himself and see what was going on. He looked over in horror to see his beloved’s arm, clutched in the jaws of one of Africa’s most fearsome super predators. He watched helplessly as the tour guides tried to save her and failed. Then he too saw the death roll…
The roll did what it was meant to do. It broke Zanele’s arm. It tore away her biceps and stripped her limb of all the upper ligaments. With the almighty snap and a bloodcurdling scream, the crocodile suddenly relented. It released the girl and swam off. Williamson then grabbed hold of her and hauled her over to the nearest river bank to check for vital signs…
Emergency crews were called to the accident site as Williamson and Fox did their best to try and stabilize Zanele. She was in shock when the helicopter arrived 45 minutes later. By the time they got her to the nearest hospital, doctors had no choice but to amputate her arm, which was hanging off and gangrenous by that point.
Despite her severe injuries and near-death experience, Zanele didn’t want to postpone the wedding. They had worked too hard to put it off. Jamie didn’t want to force her to do it though if she wasn’t ready. They came up with a compromise. Five days after having lost her arm to a ravenous crocodile, Zanele Ndlovu was able to walk down the aisle with a smile on her face…
Zanele was wearing white on her wedding day. Her extra-long veil was made of delicate white lace and her dress was the color of fresh fallen snow. Even the gauze wrapped tightly around her arm was white. The bandage had been recently changed for the occasion. The venue had also changed, but the wedding date had remained the same.
A Week of Trauma
“In one week we went from shock and agony to a truly amazing experience,” explained Fox. For her part, his wife agreed wholeheartedly. “There is always something good about life to celebrate,” she said “I just look out and see how beautiful the view is. Sunshine and green. I am happy.” They had much to be thankful for, but much to still overcome…
Before that incident, one local woman was killed by a crocodile while fetching firewood and so was a tourist. But make no mistake, though croc attacks are fairly common, the attack on Zanele was an extraordinary event: one that Williamson hasn’t experienced in the 12 years he’s been doing adventure tours on the upper Zambezi.
Pain and Pride
Jamie Fox added that he’s so proud of how brave his new wife has been throughout the experience. The fact that his bride could laugh and smile despite the agonizing pain she must have been in is absolutely incredible. Following the nuptials, she headed back to the hospital to finish her recovery…
Since the wedding day, Zanele Fox has been discharged and is recovering nicely at her own home. The couple is still planning on settling in Great Britain and will have a real honeymoon once all the red tape is sifted through. They will likely not be going canoeing.
Jamie joked about how “outdoorsy” both of them had been before the incident saying that they weren’t sure if they would ever go canoeing again: at least not down a river in Africa anyway. “We have to think about that in the future,” added the charity worker.