After her daughter disappeared within minutes of going outside to play on Sunday afternoon, a Jika Joe mother went straight to the police, who declined to go back with her to the settlement to help search for the girl.
The family of Snegugu Mthembu (13) fear she was abducted, and believe she could have been found if the police had acted more quickly.
They say two police officers finally came to Jika Joe at around 8 pm and told them it was “already too late” to search.
Their neighbours blocked roads with burning barricades on Monday to dramatise their protest over the tardy police response.
Phumeza Dlamini, Snegugu’s mother, told The Witness that her daughter went missing within five minutes of leaving the house.
“She went outside to play with the other children in the yard and five minutes later she was gone.”
Phumeza said Snegugu hardly left the house and even when she did, she was always within eyesight of her home. She said her daughter, who goes to the Open Gate Special School, is mentally unstable and has difficulty speaking.
The family and irate community members said they are not happy that police only responded to their report about the missing child hours after they were alerted.
Just before noon on Monday, the areas neighbouring Jika Joe were blanketed with clouds of black smoke as residents burned tyres and rubble on Fitzsimmons and Larch roads near Jika Joe.
Young children joined in and were seen spreading rubbish, throwing rocks and loitering around the burning barricades on the roads.
Phumeza said she went to report her missing child at the Pietermaritzburg police station a short while after she had disappeared.
“I had Sne’s picture with me and the police took down my statement but refused to go back with me and help us look for her. They said I must come back again today [yesterday] because they still needed to do some photocopies,” said Phumeza.
Jabulani Dlamini, Snegugu’s uncle, said community members kept calling the police on Sunday night begging them to come to the area as they suspected that those who took the child might still be in the area with her. He said two police officers only arrived around 8 pm. “The female officer asked if we expected them to sleep at Jika Joe and refused to help us look. She said it was already too late.
“I, along with the rest of the family and community members, believe that had the police actually helped us do a door-to-door search we would have found the child. Whoever took Sne has probably left the area with her already, all because the police refused to help us yesterday [Sunday],” said Jabulani.
Phumeza added that she supported the protest action by her neighbours.
“Hopefully the protests will put pressure on the police to actually do something. The people are saying they won’t stop protesting until my child is found.”
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said no damage to property or any injuries due to protest action were reported. She said a missing persons inquiry was opened at Pietermaritzburg police station for investigation. “Police are searching for the missing child with K9 Unit members. Allegations that police did not search for the child are baseless,” said Gwala.
By Monday afternoon, the protest was still ongoing.