- Three women security guards have been found alive following their suspicious disappearance.
- The three guards were on duty at the Seeisoville Stadium when unknown suspects attacked, drugged and kidnapped them.
- The women were found in bushes on the outskirts of Maokeng in Kroonstad on Wednesday night.
Three women – aged 37, 39 and 44 – were found in bushes, with their hands and feet tied, close to a river on the outskirts of Maokeng in Kroonstad on Wednesday night.
The security guards were allegedly attacked, drugged, kidnapped, and stripped naked while on patrol at the Seeisoville Stadium the previous night.
The women disappeared shortly after reporting for duty on the evening of 16 August.
Their ordeal finally ended when their screams for help were heard by three cattle herders. The men rescued them and took them to a place of safety.
According to Free State police spokesperson, Sergeant Mahlomola Kareli, the three women, who were found 5km from the stadium, were disorientated and their hands were bound with shoelaces.
He said they were in a "bad condition" and were rushed to the hospital for observation and tests.
"The women have suffered great trauma and have to undergo counselling before the police can ask them questions about the incident," Kareli added.
Patric Dibidibi from Isidingo Security Services, which employs the women, told News24 the alarm was raised after a supervisor discovered a locked guard room when checking up on the women.
"He found the guard room locked, and there were no security officers. He tried to check around the area, but no one was there. The supervisor called the control room and informed them that he could not find the security officers stationed there.
"When the controller checked on the system to try and track their radio, he saw that they were doing their patrols, and at 22:45, they moved to the side of the stadium. At the stadium, the site is not well fenced. When they got there, the radio [patrol] stopped, and there were no further movements," he said.
Dibidibi added that the supervisor went to the police station to report that the women were missing, but it was not taken "seriously".
He said the supervisor returned to the stadium at 05:00 on Wednesday to check if the women had returned to their post, but there was still no sight of them.
Dibidibi said they informed the company and conducted patrols in the area to search for the missing women.
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"We went to the bushes around and near the place. We broke open their guard room and found their cellphones still on charge. Everything that belonged to them, including their lunchboxes and two radios, was still there.
"The only thing missing was them, and the three firearms and one radio."
Dibidibi said they managed to trace the radio for a second time and found it dumped in the area.
He added that the company dispatched all their vehicles to the area and conducted a search on Wednesday night, together with police and community leaders.
"We rushed there and found SAPS and ambulances on the scene. They told us that the ladies were tied up near the river, close to a plot.
"People who were busy with their cattle heard the screams of the ladies. They (the herdsmen) went to them (the women) and found them naked and tied up."
He added that the herders rushed to a nearby house of a police officer who lived in the area to alert him.
"When that police official went there, he found that these were the people they were looking for. We found them at the police officer's house together with all the first aid help and SAPS."
Dibidibi said the women were taken to hospital for a check-up:
He said the company would provide counselling for the women, and they would be placed on leave until they were ready to return to work.
Dibidibi said their clothes and safety boots were discovered close to where they were found.
Their three firearms are still missing.
The company has come under fire for deploying women to work the nightshift, but Dibidibi said they were equipped with tracking radios, firearms, and bulletproof vests.
"We have majority of females … so we have deployed male officers in areas where all the dangerous things are happening."
Faith, the sister of the 37-year-old woman who disappeared, said: "When we heard about her disappearance, the whole family cried hysterically because we knew our country was not safe as people were getting killed daily."
She added the same sentiment was shared by enraged residents because it was Women's Month.
Faith said her family was relieved when they heard the three women had been found alive.
"When I saw her, she was traumatised and didn't seem like the person I knew, it seemed like she didn't even know who I was."
According to her, the family tried to get information from the 37-year-old, but her memory was fuzzy. All she could say was they were using torches while on patrol due to load shedding.
"They didn't see where the suspects came from, and they covered them with something which drugged them, and that's when they woke up at the graveyard without their uniforms and guns, with their hands tied.
"She didn't even see how many suspects were there, which vehicle they were driving, or how they were transferred to the car," Faith said.
"I am also not very okay, and I am scared as every day I walk outside, I am thinking of the worst, especially since this happened to someone we are living with."