Three children found dead in river were bunking school

08 September 2021 - 14:11
Themba Ngomane, Nonjabulo Ngomane and Katlego Sibande were found dead on Tuesday. Stock photo.
Themba Ngomane, Nonjabulo Ngomane and Katlego Sibande were found dead on Tuesday. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/PAUL FLEET

Three schoolchildren who were found floating in the Mohlabetse River in Limpopo on Tuesday had been bunking school before they died.

Siblings Themba Ngomane, 8, Nonjabulo Ngomane, 9, and neighbour Katlego Sibande, 15,  were reported missing on August 30 after leaving for school and not returning.

“The school told us on Tuesday [August 31] when we went to report they were missing that they had not come to school for two weeks,” said the siblings' father Dumisani Ngomane.

The family had not noticed anything out of the ordinary during those two weeks, he said.

“Their routine was normal. I am asking myself, when they were showing us homework was the older one writing for them? In that whole two weeks, they came back with homework but we didn’t notice if the handwriting belongs to the teacher or the older children,” he said.

“The thing that has happened is very painful because the school failed to report to us that the children spent two weeks without attending class. Maybe if the school had reported [this] we could have seen this coming,” he said. 

Police spokesperson Brig Motlafela Mojapelo said an inquest docket had been opened.

He said a missing persons file was initially opened at Dennilton police station and police launched a search, assisted by the community.

“Preliminary police investigations indicated the three might have been kidnapped as they were allegedly seen boarding a white Toyota Avanza,” he said.

A case of kidnapping was registered.

He said a herdsman walking along the Mohlabetse River found the three bodies floating in stagnant water on Tuesday.

“On arrival at the scene, the three children, still clad in school uniforms, were found floating in the water and were retrieved by members of the police search and rescue unit. The deceased were identified by the two families,” he said.

Ngomane said after spending Sunday (August 29) with his children, he last saw them when they departed for school on Monday.

He said his older child, who is in matric, was traumatised by what happened. 

“My child collapsed at school after hearing the news.

“What I am facing is very painful. I lost two of my children and it is piercing my heart, it has hurt me badly. It’s still difficult for my wife to cope. She is not feeling well,” he said.

Provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Thembi Hadebe ordered a prompt investigation into the circumstances of the deaths. He said postmortems would be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Family friend and neighbour Mandla Mabona said a friend of the older child who died had revealed they were interacting with a foreign national in the area who later disappeared.

Social development MEC Nkakareng Rakgoale said the department was concerned about the increasing number of missing persons cases in Limpopo.

“It is concerning to learn about this cruel incident which has seen us losing three children after they were reported missing in the area. We are starting to see cases of missing persons rearing [an] ugly head in the province, a trend which we must all guard against and not allow to happen,” said Rakgoale.

The department dispatched a team of social workers to provide psychosocial support to the families of the deceased children.

“It is our responsibility as government and communities to ensure children are safe and protected at all times,” said Rakgoale.

Department spokesperson Witness Tiva said in a separate incident the search for two children, Tshegofatso and Kamogelo Raphasha aged six and seven, was continuing in the Senwabarwana area. The siblings were reported missing on August 24. 

Tiva said social workers were with the Raphasha family while the search for their children continued.

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