The mother of a 6yr old girl who drowned.Picture Zanele Zulu.27/02/2014

Durban - A desperate search for a missing 6-year-old girl ended in heartache for residents of Welbedacht West, near Chatsworth, when the child’s body was found entangled in reeds in the uMlazi River on Thursday.

Residents searched through the night, combing the riverbank by lamp- and torchlight after Zanele Khanyile went missing on Wednesday.

The child’s grandmother, Elizabeth Khanyile, 57, said she became worried when Zanele did not return home that evening.

Zanele had left at about 3pm with a 7-year-old relative to visit a family member’s home nearby.

The young relative came back to the house alone at about 5pm, was given headache medication and went straight to bed, she said.

The Daily News is withholding the child’s identity.

Elizabeth sent a grandchild to the relative’s home to look for Zanele, but the child was not there.

“I woke (the young boy) up and threatened to beat him with a stick. He started talking about what happened in the afternoon.”

He said he and Zanele and two other children had gone to play at a popular spot at the river about 250m from the family member’s house, she said. He told her Zanele had been swept away.

“I took to the street and screamed until neighbours arrived. It was mayhem.

“We all went to the river and started searching. When we searched for her body, my mind raced with the hope of finding her. We called the police, who arrived and searched at the river bank, but abandoned the search after darkness fell,” said Elizabeth.

Residents continued looking for her throughout the night, clearing bush along the bank.

Yesterday morning, three men from the area jumped into the river, wading downstream in search of Zanele.

One of the three, Sifiso Gumede, 42, found her body.

He said at a first glance he thought it was a doll.

“I quickly got closer while calling others to have a close look.

“She was still wearing her clothes, but they were loose.

“Her mouth and left shoulder had been bruised, her face looked pale and her eyes were wide open,” Gumede said.

Zanele’s mother, Nomvula Khanyile, 26, was too distraught to talk about the incident, but the young relative told the Daily News he and Zanele could not resist the temptation to go with friends and play near the river, despite having been warned not to by their parents.

“She slipped and fell into the water. The current was strong and it spun and swept her away.

“She yelled, while trying to grab the nearby trees. I tried to catch her, but it was too late.

“She just disappeared in front of our eyes. With the fear of telling our grandmother, I decided to keep quiet,” the youngster said.

Elizabeth said the police should have done more to help with the search.

“We were all shocked at this because we had hoped that through police intervention, her body would be found sooner,” said Khanyile.

Gumede said police had tried to stop the search the night before, warning it was unsafe.

They returned to take statements after the body was found.

SAPS spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said police search and rescue members had been called to the scene that night, but could not conduct a search because of the strong current.

Zanele is expected to be buried on Sunday.

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Daily News