Nokulunga Nkosi, the mother of eight-year-old Amahle Thabethe who went missing in April, holds in her hands a picture of her daughter at her home in Tsakane, Ekurhuleni. File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA).
It has been more than four months since 8-year-old Amahle Thabethe disappeared while playing outside her home in Tsakane.

She was allegedly abducted by an unknown man on April 6. Since then, there have been no sightings, no leads and no arrests.

Her mother, Nokulunga Nkosi, her family and community members - who were at the forefront of the mass action to return Amahle - have vowed to keep up the pressure in the hope that the little girl will be returned unharmed.

Nkosi said she was hopeful that her only child was still alive.

Former Hawks investigator and Unisa department of police practice researcher Dr Marcel van der Watt said it was critical to delineate between the different types of crimes that took place.

“In short, kidnapping refers to the unlawful deprivation of a person’s freedom of movement while abduction is the unlawful taking of a minor from the control of his/her custodian with the specific intent to marry or have sexual intercourse with that minor.”

According to Van der Watt, when these crimes (kidnapping and abduction) are committed as a means for the subsequent exploitation of a person as provided for in the act (Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013), it is dealt with as “trafficking in persons”.

“It is difficult to grasp the anguish of a parent who attempts to report a child missing, but are then told by police officials that they have to wait 24 or 48 hours or are advised that they should return on the Monday when efforts are made to report missing people over the weekend.”

The crime expert said human trafficking was sensationalised and viewed “as this hidden monster that suddenly reared its large and ugly head” whereas it had always been part of this nation’s history and continues to show itself systemically.

He further explained that human trafficking was perpetuated and enabled by corruption, and has a vested interest in South Africa’s deep and dense structural inequalities. Because of its subversive and hidden nature, it is a crime that does not lend itself to being accurately counted or quantified.

“At its essence, the crime is about the subjugation of one human being by another for some material or financial benefit. This has been part of our despicable history for time immemorial.”

Criminologist Professor Anni Heeselink said kidnapping of children seemed to be on the increase in South Africa. 

Drawing similarities between the abduction of Amahle and that of 6-year-old Amy’Leigh de Jager who was recently kidnapped outside her school in Vanderbijlpark and was found shortly and returned to her family, Heeselink said the kidnappers in Amy’Leigh’s case possibly resided in the same vicinity or town where the crime occurred.

“Often, kidnappers do not look and act like villains. They appear normal and trustworthy to children, especially to younger children who still lack sound judgement of character,” said Heeselink. The kidnapper probably came across as calm, friendly, approachable and convincing.

“He must have watched the children beforehand, looking for suitable targets without guardianship, without raising alarm, and easy escape routes.”

Heeselink described the kidnapping of children as a cold and callous crime with no empathy for the child or the family.

She said factors at play in these crimes included poverty, unemployment, greed, deviant sexual behaviour, corruption, religion, politics, lack of guardianship and the opportunity to commit crime.

Sunday Independent