Babies dumped at birth in Pretoria

16 March 2010 - 00:56 By NATASHA LANDMAN

Three babies a week are found dead on Pretoria's Onderstepoort rubbish dump by waste recyclers, who are confronted by the sight of the bones of many other infants, crushed by waste-compacting machines.

Police and non-government organisations report an alarming increase in the numbers of illegal, late-term abortions, concealments of birth, and even the murder of babies in poor areas around Pretoria North.

The police believe that the dead babies come from areas including the suburb of Wolmer, the informal settlement of De Klerk's Oord, and the townships of Mabopane, Soshanguve, and Mamelodi.

Neville Manjiama, a member of a community project who sifts through the landfill site for recyclable material, which he sells, says the sight is horrific.

"The recyclers often find bits of broken bones. And we find at least two to three babies here a week," he said.

When asked where the newborn babies are found, he points to black refuse bags that have been through rubbish crushers but have not been compacted into the landfill site.

Asked why the recyclers do not report the matter to police, he said: "Eish. Painful, painful, very bad. My heart gets painful but if you report, then police question all day and you have no money for that night."

Tshwane's head of landfill sites, Frans Dekker, told The Times that his workers find up to 12 bodies a year. But he said these were only the identifiable corpses of newborns, or of abandoned or murdered infants.

"We have no control over what comes in. If a body is found it is supposed to be reported to the office, which then calls the police. Our main chore is to process waste - we're not there to go through every bag and look what's in it. The waste is compressed and added to the landfill," he said.

"When you have a 20m³ truck dumping waste from the city - of course you can miss something like that as it goes to the centre of the waste core."

The latest dead newborn to be officially reported was found by a pedestrian on Wednesday. The baby's body was stuffed into a sports bag and thrown into the Apies River in Pretoria West.

Police are waiting for the results of a post-mortem to decide whether the baby was still-born, aborted or murdered. The umbilical cord was still attached.

Police spokesman Daniel Mavimbela said it would be "virtually impossible to find out where it was dumped because it had floated down the river.

Also last week, commuters at the Mabopane railway station in Pretoria North found a newborn baby girl in a smouldering dumpster. She was still moving but died before the police arrived.

Police spokesman Inspector Llifi Ramatlo said: "The refuse bin in which she was dumped was smouldering and this is mostly likely what caused her death. It must have been set alight on purpose. There was also lots of tissue with blood on it, probably from the mother giving birth.

"We have asked people in this area to look out for neighbours they know who were pregnant and are now suddenly not, with no baby."

In late January, a newborn baby was found in a refuse bag by workers at the Onderstepoort landfill site. The baby's head had been torn off because the garden refuse bag it was stuffed in had been driven over by a grader.

Police forensic investigators combed the scene and a murder docket was opened.

Two of the police officers who responded were Constable Yvette Smith, of the Pretoria North police's social crime prevention unit, and Detective Inspector Anrie Robinson, of Akasia Park.

"Our hands are tied. Anyone can deliver, drop the infant in a waste bin four streets down on rubbish collection day, or throw it into a big container full of other rubbish and dump it in the middle of the landfill site," said Smith.

"There's no way we can connect that body with its biological parents and prosecute them."

But the City of Tshwane denies that the murder of newborns or the abortion of fully developed foetuses is on the rise.

Spokesman Dikeledi Phiri said that according to their "official" information, seven babies were dumped at their landfill sites in the past year.

City officials said that their mechanised systems made it impossible to say how many dead infants were being dumped.

Koot Snyman, director of the city's waste water treatment works, said that in the past "people were employed to remove large objects from the waterworks and could identify foetuses and bodies".

"These days, a mechanised process removes solid articles from the waste water flow. Screens catch objects and compress them in a machine. The waste is thrown into large bins. Nobody looks into those bins."