Despite heavy rain, deep water, strong currents - and snakes - emergency services workers and rescue divers braved the muddy Moretele River on Thursday in search of the three missing boys from Mamelodi East.
Bonolo Malemela, 9, Gomolemo Mangena, 10, and Neo Setlhabane, 10, disappeared on Monday. The last time they were seen they were playing in the stormwater drainage system near the Mamelodi East sports grounds.
Apart from finding Gomolemo’s muddy jacket next to the river, police have found no trace of the boys over the past four days.
On Thursday, Tshwane emergency services personnel and a K9 search and rescue unit of the SAPS combed the river from the Moretele Park Resort to a bridge near the Baviaanspoort Prison.
It was the first time this week that the water levels were low enough for rescue divers to go in.
Five police divers spent several hours in the water looking for the boys. They covered at least 5km in the water. A police dog searched the river banks alongside the divers.
Hundreds of Mamelodi residents joined police in their search at the resort.
“The community feels terrible for the parents, but we will not lose hope,” said resident Irvin Kabini.
They would appeal to residents to help search for the children. “As time goes by, support will wane but we are begging the community to finish the search,” he said.
Gomolemo’s mother, Susan Mangena, watched as police searched.
“I am trying to cope. I have to be strong for my son,” she said.
Gomolemo’s cousins have been glued to the television, hoping to see their eldest cousin found.
“They promised us they would not stop searching until they find something. We still have hope,” Mangena said.
Police spokesman Captain Johannes Maheso said they were doing all they could to find the children.
“A case was reported and there is a duty to be done. We have to search and investigate what happened to the children.”
Neo’s aunt, Rebecca Setlhabane, said they would keep praying for the boys’ safe return.
“We are so worried because we cannot find any trace of them.”
The search was called off at 2.30pm because of heavy rain and will continue at 9am on Friday.
“It is too early to talk about confidence in us finding the boys. We are continuing the search and we are hoping for success,” said Maheso.
Kabini said police were planning to bring rescue rafts to cover the areas where it was too dangerous to swim.
“The further you go down the river, the more dangerous it gets.
“We saw two snakes (both pythons) in the water, and we don’t want to risk the rescue workers’ lives. They are doing the best they can,” he said.
One of the snakes was killed; the other one escaped.
On Friday, police will cover the area between Baviaanspoort and the Roodeplaat Dam, where the river ends.