Double tragedy struck the Jika Joe informal settlement on Tuesday, with the discovery of the body of 13-year-old Snegugu Mthembu, while a man chasing after the person suspected of murdering her was electrocuted by live electricity wires.
Also read: Where is Sne?
The man, a Malawian national whose identity is unknown, was running after Snegugu’s alleged killer when he stepped on the wire. He died at the scene.
Snegugu, affectionately called “Sne”, was a pupil at the Open Gate Special School and had been reported missing on Sunday.
She had been playing outside with her friends when she disappeared.
Snegugu’s body was discovered on Tuesday morning by her mother, Phumeza Dlamini. The body was naked from the waist down and trapped amongst the reeds on the bank of the Dorpspruit River near the informal settlement.
On Tuesday afternoon, a man living at the settlement was arrested in connection with the murder.
He is expected to appear in court soon charged with murder.
The child’s body was found a few metres from her family’s home.
On Tuesday, neighbours comforted Phumeza as she sobbed bitterly while waiting for a mortuary van to collect her daughter’s body.
Phumeza said she had just finished taking a bath at about 6.40 am and was throwing out the bathwater when she spotted her daughter’s lifeless body on the river bank.
“I’m not okay,” she told The Witness.
“Despite the odds, I still believed she was alive.
“I had hoped to find her alive. I couldn’t sleep last night. I decided to wake up early and take a bath so I could continue searching for her.”
It would take a while for her to get the image of Snegugu’s half-naked body out of her mind, Phumeza said.
“I will never forget that face.
“She only had her jersey on. She didn’t deserve to die like this.”
Inside the house Phumeza shared with her children, Snegugu’s neatly ironed school uniform hung on the wall next to the bed — a uniform she was supposed to wear on Tuesday as schools re-opened.
Describing her as a “friendly and beautiful girl”, Phumeza said although Snegugu was mentally challenged and had difficulty speaking, she adored her company.
“She was very playful. We often played games or watched TV together. She also loved modelling.”
The mother of two believes that her daughter would have been found alive if the police had acted faster.
“The two police officers who came here on Sunday were very rude.
“The female officer was busy on her cellphone … they showed no empathy or interest.
“They [the officers] told me it was too late, and that they wanted to go and sleep. I asked how they supposed I would go to sleep when I didn’t know my daughter’s whereabouts, but they just left and said we were wasting their time.”
Meanwhile, angry neighbours who gathered at the scene also voiced their dissatisfaction with the police and threatened to “hand out justice” to Snegugu’s alleged murderer.
The hostile crowd also surrounded a police Search and Rescue vehicle, while threatening to assault a police officer.
Amidst their grief, the residents broke out in loud cheers when it was announced that the suspected killer had been arrested.
The neighbours demanded that the police hand over the man to them so they could “deal” with him.
After Snegugu’s body was loaded into a mortuary van and taken away, a protest erupted and Jika Joe residents blocked Masukwana Street, Echo and Ohrtmann roads with burning tyres, stones and bottles. The residents were demanding that the management of the Pietermaritzburg police station come and address them.
Public Order Police used rubber bullets to disperse the angry crowd. But by late on Tuesday afternoon, the protest was still ongoing. No one was arrested during the protest.
Phumeza confirmed that hours earlier, Snegugu’s sandals were found inside the alleged killer’s shack.
Jabulani Dlamini, Snegugu’s uncle, said they became suspicious of the man as they could not access his shack during the door-to-door search.
“We suspected that Sne might be locked inside that man’s house.”
Jabulani said after the body was found, irate community members decided to break down the door of the man’s house and found blood stains on the floor and bed.
The man was not inside the house, but he returned minutes later, and ran off into nearby bush when he was cornered by the neighbours. He was later arrested in the CBD.
The man is said to have moved into the informal settlement little more than a week ago.