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Ritchie, Northern Cape - The parents of a six-year-old girl, who drowned in the Riet River near Ritchie, had to wait anxiously for more than 24 hours for the body of their daughter to be retrieved from the water after police divers had to be called in from Bloemfontein.
The body of Nikita Maduo was pulled from the river on Thursday morning after she fell into the river and drowned on Wednesday afternoon.
Community members and head of FRS Security, Inspector Johannes Khomojong, pleaded with the police to allow private diver Casey Exley-Thompson, from Holland, to assist in retrieving the body.
However, because it was a crime scene, the body could only be retrieved by police divers, who had to come from either Upington or Bloemfontein.
Maduo fell into the river and drowned after she and friends went for a swim on Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, residents gathered at the scene as the Bloemfontein K9 Unit used a small boat and a sniffer dog to locate the body under the murky water.
Rocks at the river’s edge bore marks made by the child’s nails as she tried unsuccessfully to clamber out of the water after falling in.
It took the K9 unit approximately seven minutes to locate the body and two divers jumped in but they came up empty-handed. The dog, however, continued to bark at the same spot and Warrant Officer Norman Kúhn went back into the river. Several minutes later he emerged, holding the tiny, lifeless body in his arms before placing it in a body bag.
According to Kuhn, he saw the child’s feet on the bottom of the river, despite the poor visibility, and managed to pull her up.
It is believed that the water at that spot was about 10 metres deep.
Kuhn said they were called in to assist as the Kimberley police’s diving unit had taken their equipment in for servicing.
The child’s devastated mother, Minah Maduo, begged the police to remove her child’s body from the river on Wednesday night. “Please ask them to remove my child from the river. She’s calling me,” the mother pleaded, after she was informed that the divers would only arrive on Thursday morning.
When the DFA visited Nikita’s house in Ritchie on Wednesday night, her mother asked reporters if her child had been brought back to her.
“I got a day off to spend time with my children. Why she went to the river, I don’t know.”
She added that her daughter was with two other children, Brumilda Woolfe and Abel Mokoena, when she drowned. “She wouldn’t have known how to get to the river on her own.”
“Abel called us and said Nikita had drowned in the river. Brumilda waited at the river while he went for help.”
She said that when she arrived at the river, she saw her daughter’s clothes on the riverbank. “I knew then that it was her.”
On Thursday, as divers pulled out Nikita’s body, Maduo clasped her hands over her mouth, trying to keep the tears back
“I am glad that she is no longer in the water but the pain is unbearable because now I also know for certain that it is her. I don’t know how I am going to sleep at night without her by my side.”
The victim’s two friends, 14-year-old Brumilda and 10-year-old Abel, arrived at the Modderrivier Police Station on Thursday to give a statement.
Brumilda said they were going to the river to swim and Nikita followed them. “I told her to stay behind but she insisted on coming along.
“When we arrived at the river, we told her to stay at the top but she followed us to the edge of the water. When we took off our clothes, she did the same. She was standing on top of a rock.”
Brumilda said Nikita then slipped and fell into the water. “She was screaming for help. I tried to pull her out but the water was too deep and then she disappeared.
“Abel ran to call for help while I stayed behind, looking into the water and hoping that she would reappear.”
Brumilda’s mother, Sarah Woolfe, said she would seek counselling for the children. “We share the loss with Nikita’s family. This is a tragedy.”
Police spokesman, Lieutenant Olebogeng Tawana, confirmed the incident and said that an inquest had been opened.
“It is alleged that the victim drowned while she was trying to swim in the Riet River. She was with her friends at the time of the incident and they immediately alerted the parents of the child.”
He added that, during attempts by the Northern Cape SAPS diving unit to retrieve the body on Wednesday, it was discovered that the river was too deep and that specialised diving equipment would be required.
“The assistance of the Free State SAPS diving unit was requested because our equipment was at the supplier being serviced. This is necessary to ensure that the equipment is in perfect condition in order to enable the police to carry out their duties optimally.
“The police regarded the drowning as a crime scene and it was treated as such. In accordance with this, permission could not be granted to a private diver as this would interfere with the crime scene.
“The body of the victim was retrieved by the Free State SAPS diving unit and the investigation continues.”
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