Pretoria - The last time three young boys from Mamelodi East were seen alive, they were playing in concrete storm water pipes next to the Moretele River.
The mothers of the boys, Bonolo Malemela, 9, Gomolemo Mangena, 10, and Neo Setlhabane, 10, have no idea where their sons are. They have been searching for them frantically since Monday evening.
Despite Mamelodi East police sending out a dog unit, a helicopter and a search and rescue team on Tuesday, the boys have yet to be found.
“The three boys were reported missing on Monday evening. Police conducted a search of the area but the boys could not be found. At this stage we cannot confirm whether the boys were flood victims,” Captain Johannes Maheso said.
The boys live on the same street. Bonolo and Gomolemo attend Puladifate Primary School and Neo goes to Boikgantsho Primary School.
From 6am on Tuesday, a group of men from the community searched along the river banks near the Moretele Park Resort, prodding the thick reeds and bushes with long wooden poles for a sign of the boys.
Bonolo’s uncle, Godfrey Malemela, said the boys were often seen playing in the pipes so it was presumed this was where they were before they disappeared. “The boys cannot swim and the water was extremely deep and muddy,” he said while searching for his nephew along the river.
The constant rain of the past week led to a massive river swelling, making it nearly impossible for rescue divers to go into the water. “The current was too strong and the water too deep, so we had to call off the search,” Maheso said.
Thick reeds and shrubbery also make it difficult to see along the river bank.
Malemela said he wouldn’t go back to his garden services job until his nephew was home safely. “We will search until it is too dark to see because we don’t have torches. We will come back when it is light. We are hoping to find them all alive.”
Rachel Malemela, Bonolo’s tearful mother, said she saw the boys on Monday at 5pm playing near her house in Extension 4 near Tsamaya Road. “They went to the bathroom outside and just vanished.”
During the search on Tuesday, police found Gomolemo’s blue tracksuit jacket on the river bank. It was covered in mud.
Susan Mangena, Gomolemo’s mother, said she saw what looked like a blue sheet next to the river. On closer inspection it was identified as her son’s jacket.
She last saw Gomolemo when he came back from school on Monday.
“He is not allowed to play in the street. I normally lock the gate when the children are all home from school. This time I was in my bedroom. He knew if I saw him I’d lock the gate and prevent him from going out so he did not come to me.”
At about 5pm on Monday, when it started raining, Mangena sent a family member to look for Gomo-lemo but in vain. After several attempts at calling the police, Mangena reported the boys missing.
Neo’s aunt, Rebecca Setlhabane, said she last saw her nephew, who lives across the street from Gomolemo, when he returned from school on Monday. “He changed and went out to play. I don’t know what happened to him,” she said.
Maheso said the search would continue on Wednesday from 9am.
Valeska Abreu reports that Pretoria received more than double its average rainfall during the first week of March, compared to the same period last year.
The SA Weather Service has recorded more than 200 percent rainfall across five weather stations in the Tshwane region since the beginning of the month.
The country has been lashed by non-stop rain for the past 10 days. Several deaths have been recorded, large trees knocked down on to roads, severe flooding hit suburbs and several roads and bridges washed away with large potholes developing.
The relentless rain has caused havoc across Centurion, Pretoria West, Soshanguve and Mabopane, which have also been listed as high alert problematic areas for flooding by Tshwane Emergency Services.
Several roads and bridges were closed off due to severe flooding, and stern warnings issued to road users to stay clear of low-lying areas and bridges.
On Monday, part of the bridge on Lucas Mangope Drive in Mabopane crossing a stream that runs into the Nooitgedacht Dam, was washed away due to the torrential downpour. Earlier that morning, a taxi carrying 13 passengers making its way across the bridge, unaware that a section had washed away, plunged into the stream below and got swept downstream.
Emergency services spokesman Johan Pieterse said they assisted in the rescue operation and no lives were lost.
He said the Hennops River was in full flood, posing a danger to residents living along its banks.
The City Of Tshwane on Tuesday said the Rietvlei Dam was overflowing 230mm above the “spillway” level. The spillway is 101.4m wide, thus a 230mm overflow amounts to about 22 000 litres a second.
The weather service has issued warnings for localised flooding which it says will continue on Thursday.