NGOs in Western Cape have put the number of child murders in the Western Cape at 66 this year, highlighting a shocking trend that has left families and communities desperate.

The spate of child disappearances and killings has led to the emergence of new heroes, intent on saving families from the pain of losing a child to violence.

They don’t wear cloaks, have special powers or carry weapons, but their bravery and determination – epitomised by leader and organiser Joanie Fredericks – is unmatched.

From the small converted yard space where she lives and works, Fredericks has established a war room for the Mitchells Plain Crisis Forum. It co-ordinates searches for missing children in Cape Town and has found about 50 children with all but two brought home alive.

The operation, which depends on donations and is made up of about 80 members from the Cape Flats, responds to reports within five minutes and dispatches a search team no later than 15 minutes after that.

Fredericks said the crisis forum started when the community ran out of patience after the rape and murder of 11-year-old Stacha Arendse in Tafelsig. They found her body in a field near her home because, she said, the response by police had been too slow.

“We had a collective rallying cry of ‘enough is enough’,” said Fredericks, pointing to an enormous board covered with the names of victims, scheduled court dates and other case information about murdered children.

“We all recognised that this is the turning point for us. And it was just ordinary people.”

After they found the body of three-year-old Courtney Pieters in Elsies River, other communities in Cape Town started similar operations. Pieters was allegedly raped and murdered by her father’s best friend, Mortimer Saunders.

Fredericks said protocols and procedures which police and community policing forums are often subjected to are a hindrance to finding missing children in time.

“The first hour of a child’s disappearance is the most important because it is normally within this time that the child will either be raped or killed. We realised there is no red tape or protocol that should prevent the community from searching. Community members and relatives can get a form from police, allowing them to search people’s homes.”

But most children were dying as a result of gang violence, according to the director of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux, who helped compile the list of slain children. “The majority on the list are boy children who have been killed through gang-related violence.”

Van Reenen-Le Roux criticised a decision last month by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille to establish a university-led project to collate research into possible reasons for the high number of murders.

“People should have the opportunity to come and testify about what is really happening in their communities and what kind of support they are [not] getting from government agencies,” said Van Reenen-Le Roux.

She claimed that Zille had betrayed NGOs who wanted a commission of inquiry into the murders to be set up.

Police would not confirm the list and spokesman FC van Wyk said earlier that there is a “moratorium on statistics”.

Zille’s spokesman, Michael Mpofu, denied the claims and said the parties had agreed on the research project, for which no completion date had been established.

In the meantime Fredericks said her team remained committed to helping communities protect children, despite a severe a lack of resources and funding for its operations.

In one case a 14-year-old girl was brought home when she was found using drugs with a knife-wielding man on a beach after her family reported her missing to the crisis forum.

“We treat every missing child as if their life is in danger because we can know what the real situation is only once we have found that child,” said Fredericks.

Western Cape’s murdered children
A group of NGOs in the Western Cape compiled a list of more than 60 children who were killed in the city of Cape Town in 2017. Here are some of them…

Story: FARREN COLLINS / TimesLive

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Nigerians in South Africa
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