The Sunday Mail
FOR any ordinary human being, the mere thought of being attacked by a crocodile elicits all manner of trepidation, but not for Kariba’s career fisherman Raphael Francisco.
The daring 63-year-old father of four has been attacked by crocodiles multiple times, resulting in near-death experiences and severe injuries.
Despite the fearsome attacks, he still chooses to continue a fisherman.
So courageous is Francisco that he is now in the habit of rescuing fellow fishermen who are attacked by crocodiles.
When The Sunday Mail visited him last week, Francisco was initially reluctant to talk as he assumed the crew was yet another delegation sent to talk him out of his job.
His wife, children and friends have over the years tried to convince him to leave the trade, but he has remained defiant.
After the intervention of his fellow fisherman, David Chikwamba, Francisco opened up.
“Fishing is my life. I dropped out of school in Grade Three and got employed in this industry at 15. So fishing is the only trade I know and I can’t leave it despite the multiple attacks by crocodiles.”
He was first attacked by a crocodile in 1996 at Nyaodza Fishing Base.
All he still remembers was feeling the crocodile’s jaws on his thigh as the predator dragged him deep into the lake.
“We always watched out for each other, but on this day, no one saw the crocodile coming,” recounts Francisco.
“I was hospitalised for three months at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals before being transferred back to Kariba where I spent a further two months before being discharged.”
For two years, Francisco abandoned fishing as he tried other means of survival. But when he decided to go back to fishing in 1999, he was attacked again.
He recounted the incident in graphic detail:
“I was fishing at a base we call Croco. It was in December, a typical hot summer day. We were fishing just inside the water-body with my friends. The water only reached knee-level and we assumed it was a safe spot. But a crocodile jumped at me from about two metres away, attacking the same leg that had been attacked in the first encounter. It attempted to drag me deep into the waters as I cried out for help.
“Luck was on my side as my mates attacked the crocodile until it let go. I suffered serious injuries and was admitted at Kariba Hospital for two months.”
Upon discharge, the defiant Francisco headed back to the waters again, choosing to change strategy, as he focused on fishing from the shore.
But, less than a year later he was attacked for a third time.
“I was fishing from the shore and the crocodile emerged from the surrounding tall grass and dragged me into the water.”
He suffered severe wounds on his lower abdomen which also left him with an erectile dysfunction — which he still lives with.
“While in hospital, I just told myself that finally it was time to quit because I had endured enough,” recalls Francisco.
After being admitted for four months’ at Kariba Hospital, Francisco hit hard times as he had no other source of income.
Left without a choice, he reverted to his old trade.
Years went by and the family eventually ‘forgot’ about the previous attacks.
However, he was attacked again in 2018, and this was the most ferocious one yet.
“It attacked me on the stomach, slitting open part of my abdomen. The crocodile went on to attack the chest as I struggled to free myself. I think this attack was more severe than ever before. I remember looking up to heaven as the crocodile dragged me deep into the water, whispering to myself that I was not going to make it this time.”
He managed to break free from the crocodile’s clutches after several people attacked the crocodile.
As a result of injuries he sustained, Francisco spent close to six months under treatment.
But when he was discharged, he did not take time to return to the waters as the experiences seemed to have hardened him.
Since that last encounter, he has rescued several fishermen from crocodile attacks.
Appeal for help
Francisco says poverty drives him back into the waters as he has no other source of income.
For all his troubles, he says the trade does not earn him much.
“The money I earn is not enough for my needs. So I have no choice but to get back into the water to make ends meet. All my children are not gainfully employed so I still have to assist them. I am no longer scared of facing crocodiles. I can rescue anyone under attack, unfortunately some of the people I have attempted to rescue have died,” he said.
Despite these acts of bravery, Francisco’s wounds have not yet fully healed and often the pain from his gashes is unbearable.
But meagre earnings from fishing mean that he cannot afford the prescribed medication.
As a licensed fisherman, his wish is to own a boat so that he can practice safe fishing and earn better income from the trade.
“Sometimes we exchange words over the issue but he still finds a way,” said his friend Chikwamba who is also founder of Chiedza cha Jehovha Kariba Disabled People Cooperative.
With 87 members, the organisation assists the disabled like Francisco, who have survived wildlife attacks. However, the cooperative is struggling to attract donors.
Francisco’s wife Lucia Kwaramba has on several occasions tried to convince him to abandon his trade.
“I never want to watch him go through those experiences again, it was unbearable and at one time I collapsed thinking he was dead as he lay in a pool of blood. Now he sometimes sneaks out only to come back later with some fish or money after selling the fish,” she said.
Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said 58 crocodile attacks were recorded in 2019, resulting in 18 deaths.
He said people should avoid fishing while standing inside the water-body.
“In the event that there is a need to move away from the shores a boat should be used and no body parts such as hands and legs should be dangled in the water.
“People should also treat all water-bodies with suspicion and exercise extreme caution when watering their cows, fetching water or fishing.”