No progress on missing boy’s fate

2017-03-12 06:00
A rescue worker descending into the mine shaft where a 5-year-old boy went missing. (Iavan Pijoos, News24)

A rescue worker descending into the mine shaft where a 5-year-old boy went missing. (Iavan Pijoos, News24)

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The family of a five-year-old boy who has been missing after disappearing down a mine shaft 15 days ago, is still in the dark about plans to recover his remains.

The Ekurhuleni municipality was going to meet with the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) on Friday to discuss the possibilities of recovering the body of Richard Thole, who fell into the disused mine shaft in the metro on February 25.

The search operation to find Richard was halted over a week ago.

The municipality said it was going to be briefed by the SANDF on whether or not there were still hopes of at least recovering the toddler’s remains at Friday’s meeting, but spokesperson Gugu Ndima yesterday said via SMS that there had been no news on the search mission.

She said the SANDF was yet to report back to the municipality.

Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina had asked the SANDF to assist after a joint search operation by emergency services and mine rescue teams was abandoned owing to safety concerns.

The army had last week gone to the shaft at Jerusalem informal settlement near Boksburg to assess the area.

Ndima told City Press this week that the army was expected to brief the municipality on Friday.

Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini could not comment on whether they were going to be able to retrieve Richard.

“This is a multidepartmental mission coordinated by the municipality. We were only invited to assist, so the municipality would be the relevant people for you to talk to,” he said.

Richard’s father, Mishack Mohlala, said the family had not heard anything from the municipality since the army was brought on board.

“We are in the dark, but remain desperate to have Richard found. It is hard for us, especially for his mother, who is not taking this whole thing too well,” Mohlala said.

Some of the reasons the search was abandoned included unstable ground, rock falls, mudslides, acid mine water and gases in the shaft, which is believed to be about 140m deep.

The shaft is located on the outskirts of the informal settlement and close to Richard’s home.

“It is not easy for us going to sleep knowing that our son is still somewhere deep down that hole. We find ourselves helpless and not knowing what to do when the authorities have said to us, ‘we will get back to you’.

“What does one do in this situation? We appreciate all the support from the community, but our desperation for closure remains,” Mohlala said.

Ekurhuleni emergency services spokesperson William Ntladi said last week that finding Richard alive was unlikely considering the number of days the boy had been down the shaft.

How long Richard’s family would have to wait remains unknown.

The families of three workers who remain trapped and are considered dead after an office container they were in was swallowed into the ground at Lily Mine in Mpumalanga have been waiting for more than a year.

Safety concerns also led to that search operation being halted. The mine said it would need about R200m to start a mining operation that would possibly help access the area where the container is believed to be.

“I am praying that we don’t wait any longer because this thing is really taking a toll on Richard’s mother.

“It is difficult for us to do anything – sleep or eat,” Mohlala said.


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