Brothel raid uncovers missing kids

2012-02-25 16:23

Her eyesight failing, back hunched with old age, 81-year-old Ernestina Mfeka joined a queue of anxious families at Durban’s police headquarters this week hoping to find their missing daughters and granddaughters.

Mfeka clutched a photograph of her 12-year-old granddaughter, hopeful and filled with dread: would the young girl be among those rescued from a brothel in central Durban last week?

Families travelled from across KwaZulu-Natal to the city on Wednesday for a 10am appointment with police.

But like most of the desperate mothers, fathers and grandparents, Mfeka’s journey – which started in KwaMashu early in the morning – was in vain.

“She was only 12,” Mfeka told City Press. “She lived with her grandmother from her father’s side in KwaMaphumulo and just never returned home from school in ­January.”

Last week, members of the ­police’s organised crime unit, ­metro police and officers from the dog unit raided a townhouse in Durban’s Point, an area notorious for drugs and prostitution.

Fifteen girls were rescued, eight of them under the age of 16 and the youngest believed to be only 12. Two of the girls found in the ­brothel were pregnant.

Police say the girls were being held against their will.

Officers took statements from all the girls, but decided to hold an identification process because many of the teens refused to reveal their real names.

Said Lieutenant Colonel ­Vincent Mdunge: “These girls are scared about how they will explain how they have been living to their ­parents. Some are worried about their neighbours and how they will be ­received back in their ­communities.”

On Wednesday, mothers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters ­entered a police conference room in groups of three to carefully study pictures of the rescued girls.

Mfeka relied on the picture she had brought with her, not trusting her own memory.

Even after somebody had checked for her, it was clear that Mfeka’s granddaughter was not among the girls rescued from the brothel.

Betty Nzama (62) was more hopeful. After examining the ­pictures three times, she pointed to an image of a girl who closely resembled her granddaughter.

The girl went missing six years ago, when she was in matric at Wentworth High School.

“To this day, when my children give me food, I sometimes just sit and stare, (wondering) if my grandchild has eaten,” Nzama said.

Her daughter – the girl’s mother – has died. “If it is her, I don’t know how I would begin to thank God. There is nothing worse than not knowing.”

Since her granddaughter’s ­disappearance, Nzama said, the family had received several calls from men saying the girl was their sex slave. Sometimes, the callers said they had killed her.

Three men – Sandile Zweni (37), Bhabha Dubazani (29) and ­Nonduduzo Dlamini (23) – were ­arrested during the raid and have been charged with human trafficking, dealing in cocaine and keeping a brothel.

Charges were withdrawn against a fourth accused, the ­property’s owner, who has turned state witness.

The trio appeared briefly in the Durban Magistrates’ Court on ­Friday.

They requested the chance to appoint their own attorney, were remanded in custody and were ­expected to appear for a formal bail application on March 20.

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