Cape Town -
Burnt and bruised, a 9-year-old child left to die after she was raped said her assailant laughed as he set her alight.
On Sunday afternoon, her family found her, still alive, huddled on top of a pile rocks, in the bush beside the R300. She had been on her way to her father’s house when she disappeared at about 8pm on Saturday.
“She was moving, still able to talk. She could tell us that she recognised the face of the man who raped her and that he laughed when he lit her, saying, ‘You won’t be able to tell anyone it was me,’” the child’s aunt said.
When police took a while to arrive, relatives carried the girl, wrapped in a blanket to her mother’s house from where she was later taken to Groote Schuur Hospital.
The girl, from Delft South, lived with her father, but would spend afternoons playing at her mother’s house only a few streets away.
On Saturday, when her father phoned her mother to check whether the child would be on her way home, her grandmother said she was still playing outside and would make her way later. The girl’s aunt, who cannot be named as it would identify her, said the child walked back to her dad’s house just after 8pm, but did not arrive.
On Sunday morning, a cowherd and a boy were herding cattle on the grass verge beside the R300 when they saw the child, the aunt said. The boy recognised the girl, rushed to the mother’s house and told herthat her daughter was lying in the bush.
“Her mother is not able to walk, she has problems with her legs. The grandmother and I went to see if it was her,” she said and added that when they realised it was the child, they contacted the police.
The child’s father said he did not think anything was wrong.
“She has a lot of friends at her mother’s house. I thought maybe she decided to sleep there instead,” he said.
Priscilla Mcentee, chairwoman of Delft Suburban, a community neighbourhood programme, said she called for back-up after seeing a man who behaved suspiciously.
“What gave it away was the fact that his T-shirt was burnt and he had blood on his pants. I stopped him and asked him why he had blood on his pants. The guy said he had been in a car accident,” she said.
News of the rape had spread fast and when residents heard about the man, they wanted to kill him, Mcentee said.
Mcentee and neighbourhood watch members kept the suspect in the garage of a watch member and waited for police to arrive.
“More then 100 people gathered outside the garage to try to kill the man. People tried to break the doors, swearing at us to give him to them,” she said.
Mcentee said she was against people taking the law into their own hands.
“I will wait for the police to tell me he’s guilty. I don’t want people killing people,” she said.
Police spokesman Andrè Traut said the child had extensive burns on her whole body. A 27-year-old suspect was arrested for rape and attempted murder and would appear in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court on Monday, he said.
“The suspect was handed over to police and fresh burn wounds were visible as well as scratch marks on the back of his body,” said Traut.
Children’s rights group Molo Songolo director Patrick Solomons said children in crime-ridden areas were at greater risk of being violated.
“We have found that it is often the people living with them or someone in the community that poses the greatest threat to them,” he said.
“However, there are many cases where the perpetrator is a stranger taking advantage of a child left alone,” he said.
Solomons emphasised the importance of communities getting involved and helping authorities ensure the safety of children.
“Communities need to take responsibility for the younger generation.
“We strongly advocate for neighbours to look out for each other’s children.
“In a community like Delft where large volumes of the people have recently moved into the area, it is more difficult for parents to build support systems. This then leaves children vulnerable,” he said.