The day Maritzburg’s social psyche changed forever

2014-12-19 00:00

THE day we heard Fiona Harvey had disappeared, was the day the mothers of Pietermaritzburg brought their children inside and kept a constant anxious vigil over them.

Many will remember with happy nostalgia how freely Pietermaritzburg children roamed the streets before then. Our children walked to school, they went on errands to the corner cafés and walked or rode their bikes to play with their neighbourhood friends.

They caught buses with their pals and went into town with a cavalier, happy independence that made the city such a great place to grow up in then.

That all changed in the wake of Fiona going missing. We identified our children with her. She was one of them.

The social psyche of the city shifted dramatically when her disappearance hit the headlines. We started dropping our children at school in our cars. We walked them to their friends’ homes or watched them going down the road from the garden gate, making them wave to us when they were safely there. We took ­responsibility for our children’s neighbourhood friends too and walked them home after a playdate.

We all agonised over Fiona’s whereabouts, well aware that any of us could have been in her parents’ shoes. We wanted her found because an explanation and arrest would mean we would not need to fear for our own children any more, and fear we did. There was only one topic of conversation at any gathering in the city for those first months. Prayer groups prayed, motorcyclists hit the town trails searching for her while others walked through the forest belt calling her name. Psychics had their theories, adamant they knew where she was. They didn’t.

Amidst the ­despair and futility, everyone wanted to do something to try and help find Fiona. We kept hoping.

It seems so crass now, but many parents used the case of the missing girls as a threat to their own children to stay in the yard or to walk in groups and stick to arrangements they had made with them.

Tragically, Fiona is not the only child to go missing in Pietermaritzburg. There are many more that have not hit the headlines in the way she did back in 1988 and subsequently with the links to Gert van Rooyen. The tragedy is that in all likelihood many more children will go missing, with some being found and others not. But Fiona Harvey, and the effect she had on making parents hug their children that little bit closer each night at bedtime, will always be remembered and revered in the minds of city residents at the time.

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