Police 'sorry' for turning family away in their search for 10-year-old autistic girl

SA police. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
SA police. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Police have launched an internal investigation into the conduct of some of its members at the Mamelodi police station after the family of an autistic 10-year-old girl alleged that they were turned away twice during their search to find her.

Community members eventually found Katlego Joga's lifeless body floating in the Moretele River on May 7. She was last seen at her home on May 3.

Family spokesperson and uncle, Thabiso Storom told News24 that the family feels that the police have let them down.

He said they had tried to explain that Katlego was autistic and that she wouldn't just be somewhere playing with friends, but their pleas fell on deaf ears and police seemingly did not know what autism was. 

"It's not enough to investigate what happened. We need to investigate before the worst happens," said Storom. 

"The first hours are crucial and, in this case, unfortunately for Katlego, it didn't turn out so great."

Storom added that police did not take seriously the fact that Katlego was an autistic girl child.

'A national priority'

Gauteng police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Deliwe de Lange, visited the family on Monday and immediately instituted an investigation into the matter.

"What should have been done was not done," said Peters. 

She said SAPS has a national instruction that regulates the handling of cases of missing persons, and further stipulates that missing person cases should be given immediate attention. 

"Also, investigations of cases [in which the victims are] children and women and other vulnerable groups, have since last year been adopted as a national priority."

De Lange expressed regret for the manner in which police have handled the case and apologised to the family, vowing to make sure that it never happens to anyone. 

On Wednesday, more than 1 000 people, comprising mostly pupils, marched to the Mamelodi police station demanding that police prioritise Katlego's case. 

Themba Masango of the #NotInMyName campaign, said they were seeking justice and did not march to the police station to fight with police. 

"We are not here in the spirit of fight. We are here in a spirit of desperation," said Masango. 

"We are here as a community, confused as to what happened to our little sister. We are trusting you to handle this case with accuracy and to handle this case with speed."

Unanswered questions

Storom described his niece as differently abled and funny in her own way. 

"She loved to sing. She enjoyed singing praise and worship songs," he said.

"As much as she couldn't communicate, she could sing full songs with lyrics and everything, which was quite amazing."

The family said they have received a preliminary report from the police but added that there were still a lot of unanswered questions. They would wait for the outcome of the investigation.

"We've been asked not to share as it (the preliminary report) might compromise the investigation at this stage so once it is wrapped up, the information will be shared."

Police say an inquest docket has been opened, pending the finalisation of the post mortem.

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