Knysna plea to protect our children

Town up in arms after spate of murders

KNYSNA has declared war on child killers after the holiday town was rocked by the murder of an 11-year-old Fraaisig Primary School pupil last week.

The latest tragedy follows a series of child murders and disappearances in and around the Garden Route town over recent months.

“We cannot let these horrific deeds continue to happen in our community. We will stand together and fight this every day,” Knysna mayor Georlene Wolmarans said.

She led a fruitless search for Zama Mhani after he was reported missing on the night of February 13.

Zama’s body was eventually found three days later – on Monday last week – in dense bush off a footpath near the affluent suburb of Hunter’s Home.

He was fully clothed with a shoelace tied around his neck.

A close family friend, Witness Kopi, 51, has been arrested.

The murder comes just a month ahead of the next court appearance of another Garden Route resident, 18-year-old Lulama Candani, who allegedly raped and murdered Sesona Bhayibhile, 8, of Bossiegif outside Plettenberg Bay, in December.

A few months earlier, in May, Rheenendal resident Ewald Booysen, 32, was handed two life sentences for the rape and murder of Rosaline Philander, 9, whose body was found in a forest outside Knysna.

Police are also still searching for nine-year-old Liyema Baleni, of Knysna, who was reported missing in August.

“We need to stand together and look after each other’s children. If something seems wrong, we need to speak out, contact the police,” Wolmarans said.

Knysna visible policing commander, Major Patrick Gogwana, also committed to fighting crime against children at a memorial service for Zama at the St James Anglican Church in Hornlee on Thursday.

“It is very sad for me to stand here today and tell Zama’s parents that I’m sorry for their loss as it is my job to keep our children safe,” Gogwana said.

Knysna community police forum chairwoman Cheryl Birtz said they would also continue to “hold hands with the community” to create a safer environment for the town’s children.

While the little boy’s family is still inconsolable, his aunt, Nomabhango Mhani, said they would do all they could to fight the horrors plaguing the town so Zama’s death would not have been in vain.

She said parents should be vigilant as the “biggest monsters” might not always be strangers – a shocking realisation Mhani and the rest of her family came to when they saw video footage of Zama leaving Fraaisig Primary’s premises before school on the day he went missing, and later, in the company of Kopi.

Kopi, who allegedly led police to the little boy’s body, was later arrested for the murder.

“We are still in shock – we cannot believe he would do something like this. We knew him very well, we saw him as family,” Mhani said.

She hoped justice would prevail and that Kopi would be found guilty and sentenced to life behind bars.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Education Department is providing counselling for Zama’s classmates to help them come to terms with the tragedy.

Kopi appeared in the Knysna Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.

He waived his right to a formal bail application and the matter was postponed to April 13 for further investigation.

-Yolande Stander

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