Masixole Myosana was laid to rest at a packed Reformed Presbyterian Church in Motherwell.
A freak rip current washed 21 bathers out to sea as the Motherwell Rugby Football Club players cooled off after their regular training session at Bluewater Bay beach last Sunday.
Eight lifeguards desperately tried to save everyone – with some of the rescuers pulling in three casualties at once.
They pulled 16 people ashore, including Myosana, who was declared dead on the scene.
An unprecedented search was conducted by police, the navy, air force and National Sea Rescue Institute to find the bodies.
“Standing there, looking on while the lifeguards searched and feeling so helpless, it has to be the worst feeling in the world,” said the team’s flyhalf, Bongani Ngeleza.
“I went to collect their gear and I heard people screaming for lifeguards … They must have been in the water for less than five minutes,” he said.
The team had been training ahead of an Easter rugby tournament in Cape Town. Some players who had stayed on the beach were washed away when they tried to save their friends.
Zolani Mcopele, one of the rescued players, earlier this week described the horror he endured trying to stay afloat as two bodies floated around him.
Mourners heard yesterday at Myosana’s funeral that the body of the last of the men – Arthur Peters, 29 – had been found. Peters’s girlfriend, Lungelwa Antonie, broke down in tears.
Ngeleza said: “In any team there will always be people one gravitates towards. You love them more than your own brother. Arthur brought me to this team and I have many friends now because of him.”
The other team members who drowned were: Xolisa Nyembezi, 28, Avuyile Tshabalala, 18, team captain Lundi Ramba, 29, and Anelisa Mbuzeli, 21.
Fellow-player Lunga Msizi said: “Your teammates are the people you spend most of your time with. When you hurt they are the ones you turn to for comfort.”
Lifesaving Eastern Cape regional head, David Bamber, said Bluewater Bay was one of the city’s safest beaches, with no drowning there in 43 years.
The last major rip current swept five bathers away three years ago, but everyone was rescued. “There were too many people in trouble during this incident but too few life guards and a totally unexpected situation,” said Bamber.
Team official Mandu Ngqoshana told the survivors on Thursday they would play for their “fallen brothers” at the tournament in Cape Town.
“There won’t just be 15 players playing. There will be six spirits with us,” said Ngqoshana.