A mother's story: 'My son has been missing for over 30 years'

By Gabisile Ngcobo
27 July 2017

“There was a time I thought I was going to go crazy.”

The last time she laid eyes on her teenage son was 32 years ago.

And even though the years have come and gone, the 70-year-old, who lived in Auckland Park at the time, is still a prisoner of hope.

Speaking to YOU, Ria Netherwood, who’s now based in Pretoria, says she’s optimistic that her son is still alive.

Her son, Charlton Ashley Netherwood, was only 15-years-old when she dropped him off at the place of safety in Edenvale in November 1985.

This was the same day that the court ordered her to do so because he was 'disobedient'.

Read more:

A mother’s story : ‘I lost two of my babies within five days’

“He didn’t want to study and bunked classes,” she adds.

In those years, if a child was deemed defiant they’d be referred to welfare.  In certain circumstances, it would be recommended that a child is taken away.  And this was done via the courts, Ria explains.

They would then be sent to an industrial school but first had to go to a house of safety, Ria explains.

“I think I took him the previous Friday, saw him the next week Saturday and then the following week I phoned them and I said, ‘Can you please tell me when will my child be sent to the industrial school?’ because a person has got to make plans. The gentleman [at the house of safety] said, ‘Oh are you the mom? Because he went missing on Wednesday already.’

“I didn’t stop crying for a long time,” she tells us.

She describes her son as 'nice'.

“But as he entered his teenage years he wanted to be different and he did become awkward. But he’s a child that didn’t want to be away from home.”

There is nowhere she didn’t search for Charlton and followed every lead.

“I opened the police case, my son-in-law at that time went through Johannesburg every Friday evening and he went to all the night clubs.”

Ria also visited mortuaries almost every day and put it on newspapers.

“Someone once even said that they saw the child in Lenasia and I went there,” she recalls.

“But sometimes when you’re gone, you’re gone,” she says in a hushed voice.

And to this date, nothing has ever come to light and Ria has a lot of unanswered questions.

A picture of Charlton Ashley Netherwood who went missing in 1985. Photo: Supplied A picture of Charlton Ashley Netherwood who went missing in 1985. Photo: Supplied

She did speak to the other children from the house of safety and they told her that they had planned to run away for the few hours and then go back.

“Apparently they’ve done it before.”

Even though it’s hearsay, it’s believed that Charlton joined his peers and went to a park in Hillbrow and that was the last time anyone heard of him.

“To this day I’ve never had a feeling that my child is dead,” she says.

She says this is something that always stays with you.

“There was a time I thought I was going to go crazy.”

PHOTO: The last picture PHOTO: The last picture Ria Netherwood has of her son

However, she’s holding on to the words that the church minister once told her: “He said, ‘God’s time is not your time and it may not even happen in your life time’.”

She keeps a photo of her son in her bedroom as a constant reminder of what she lost.

“It was heartbreaking and it is still is,” she adds.

She longs for the day she will see him again.

“There are people who have gone missing and they come to light year after year.”

For now, she has learned that life does go on and that faith is everything.

“I put my trust in God and I believe that His will be done,” she opines.

“I have a wonderful sister and grandchildren from my late daughter who passed on in 2010.”

However, she can’t help but wonder about his whereabouts or whether Charlton has a family of his own as a 47-year-old man this year.

Read more: A mother’s story on caring for a son with rare Infantile Spasm disorder

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