'I will never let my child travel alone again' - mother of 10-year-old girl found lost on streets of Johannesburg

Commuters getting into a taxi
Commuters getting into a taxi
Image: File Photo

It has been 10 hours since Zinhle Khumalo* has been reunited with her young daughter at a Johannesburg police station.

Dressed in all black to begin her shift - sweeping the streets of Joburg - Khumalo‚ 26‚ struggled to talk during an interview on Tuesday morning.

On Monday‚ Khumalo’s daughter‚ who is 10 years old‚ was put in a taxi from Bergville to Johannesburg all by herself. When she arrived in Johannesburg’s city centre‚ there was no one to receive her. The girl wandered around the streets for some time until a Good Samaritan saw her walking on Rissik Street‚ with big bag almost her weight‚ and took her to a safe place.

The distraught mother explained how what was meant to be a normal routine trip turned into the worst hours of her life.

She said she had asked the child’s father‚ who lives in KwaZulu-Natal‚ to allow her to visit Johannesburg‚ as it is school holidays.

“He agreed. My daughter was supposed to come on Sunday but they were unable to (transport her to the taxi rank that day). They brought her on Monday. I was aware that my child would come to Johannesburg all by herself. All they had to do was to give us details of the driver and the taxi that she would board in Bergville‚” said Khumalo.

When the child’s family in Bergville placed the child in the taxi‚ they did give Khumalo a vehicle registration‚ colour and make of the minibus taxi. An aunt of the child‚ who placed her in the taxi‚ said the child departed from Bergville at 1pm.

Khumalo and Thembisile*‚ another aunt of the child who is in Johannesburg‚ estimated a time of arrival at Wanderers taxi rank. Thembisile then went to fetch the child shortly before the expected time of arrival. But when the minibus taxi with the registration plates they were given stopped at the rank‚ it only had two passengers. The little girl was not one of them.

“The driver of the taxi told me that the girl did not board his taxi and he does not know her. He also checked on the passenger list and could not find her name.

“We spoke to another guy at the rank who then called another taxi driver to check another passenger list and they found the child’s name on that list - which had a different registration from the one they gave us. While I was still waiting at the rank‚ two other taxis from Bergville arrived but the child was not in them. At that time I could not help but cry‚” said Thembisile.

When Thembisile enquired about the taxi which had the child’s name on the passenger list‚ she was told that the taxi had arrived earlier and that the child had simply walked off.

“Apparently the driver asked the child if she knew where she was going and she said yes. The driver also asked her if she knew the person who is fetching here and she said yes‚ then he allowed her to go. It is strange because the child was carrying a big bag which was too big for her to carry. I don’t understand how they simply let her go‚” Thembisile said.

Distraught‚ she waited at the rank for a while but then returned to their flat in Doornfontein‚ where she fetched Khumalo and a cousin. By now‚ it was after 6pm.

The distance between their apartment and the Wanderers taxi rank is approximately 1.4km.

“We walked around looking for the child at Park Station (in the city centre). We checked all the taxis parked at the rank‚ the child was not there‚” Thembisile said. They then went to the police at Park Station‚ but the child was not there either. They moved back to Wanderers to again look for the child.

She was nowhere to be found.

“I was constantly crying now because I was scared that something wrong had happened. [But] somehow‚ I still had hope she was alive‚” Khumalo said.

Becoming increasingly desperate‚ they then went to Johannesburg Central police station. They found a little child in police care‚ but it was not Khumalo’s daughter.

Police then advised them to go to Hillbrow police station. It was at this station that Khumalo found her daughter‚ at about 1am.

“She was sleeping‚ covered in a blanket. She was okay. I was relieved‚ but I am still recovering from the experience. I struggled to sleep and have not eaten since then‚” Khumalo said.

Asked why her daughter was unescorted on the journey‚ the mother said the child had travelled safely to Johannesburg by herself in 2016.

“But I will never do it again. Her father is still angry with me as we speak‚” Khumalo said.

Khumalo and Thembisile wish to meet the woman who found the child on Monday evening – a bitterly cold night. They wish to tell her of their gratitude for ensuring she was safe with police.

*Not their real names.

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