Lost and afraid: How missing Motherwell toddlers were found
A frightened whimper from behind sand dune leads cops to missing boys
A massive search effort involving hundreds of Motherwell residents, police, emergency medical services and search-and-rescue teams ended in jubilation shortly after 7pm on Wednesday when three missing toddlers were finally found in the Amanzi area between Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, about 7km from where they went missing.
They had endured a night in the open, dressed in just T-shirts and shorts.
The policeman who found the last two boys was so emotional that he shed tears of joy and relief.
The three little boys – Othandwayo Prince, 4, and Linamandla “Limpy” Zenzile, 3, who are related, and their best friend Nande Nombewu, 3 – had last been seen at midday on Tuesday while they were playing in the bushes near the hall in Sisulu Street in NU29.
One of the boys – Linamandla – was found a few hours before the other two boys at a weigh bridge near the Amanzi Quarry.
Hundreds of residents and the search teams, including a police helicopter, had scoured dense bush and gravel roads in a vast, bushy area from about 10pm on Tuesday until past midnight.
The search resumed again on Wednesday morning.
Linamandla was found at about 2.25pm and the two other children were found at about 7.10pm about a kilometre away from the weigh bridge.
A police search-and-rescue officer at the scene said the boys had been lying down on rocks at the quarry and were dehydrated and exhausted, but otherwise unharmed.
The children were all taken to a hospital in Uitenhage for medical check-ups.
There were scenes of unbridled joy at the junction of the R334 and the quarry road when community members who had participated in the search heard that the two missing boys had been found.
Beaming but exhausted search-and-rescue members and police officers shared in the rejoicing.
The two boys, sitting on the back seat of a police van – seemingly oblivious to the crowd around the vehicle – gulped down water.
The toddlers, according to Port Elizabeth police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu, got lost in the bush – which proved to be an exceptionally difficult search environment.
The massive area was hilly, with very dense patches of bush, trees and lots of thorns.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Jesvin Arends and Warrant-Officer Francois Marais went behind a sand dune and heard the whimper of a child.
“The two children were found lying on the rocks.
“They were almost 7km from their home,” Naidu said.
“It was overwhelming to see how communities all over the metro offered their assistance in whatever way possible to find these children.
“People came straight from work and joined the search.
“We are just glad that these children are safe and reunited with their parents.”
The three disappeared while playing with cattle in a field several metres from a house at which Linamandla’s mother, Nomakhaya Zenzile, works.
As news of the missing children spread on Tuesday, hundreds of Motherwell residents took to the streets, desperately searching for them, splitting into groups and scouring pathways, houses and bushes.
The little boys, whom family members described as best friends, were only reported missing to the police by 10pm on Tuesday after family members had exhausted all efforts to find the children.
About 400 residents joined the search.
The search, which was suspended early in the morning, resumed at first light.
Sitting alongside Nande’s visibly shocked mother, Noluntu Nombewu, Nomakhaya described the events leading up to the children’s disappearance.
“Noluntu came to drop off her child at my workplace and, shortly after, they [three boys] came to ask if they could go and play at a neighbour’s place.
“At about 2[pm], I went to go search for them at the neighbour’s place but she told me that they had never arrived but instead were playing in my yard,” Nomakhaya said.
“I went home and found a green Nike sandal that belonged to my son [Linamandla], but they were nowhere to be found.
“I then alerted Noluntu. We began searching the area and later on we decided to go to the [police] charge office to open a missing person’s case.”
Nande’s visibly distraught father, Mzukisi Nombewu, 49, who works at a factory in Deal Party, said he had been alerted to the missing children when he arrived home on Tuesday.
“I went to look where they were last seen but could not find them.
“They often played outside but always stayed close to the house. Apparently they were seen chasing cows,” he said.
“After I did not find them, we went to all their friends’ houses nearby to see if they were there.
“When we realised they were missing, we went to the police.”
He said they had not stopped searching until the boys had all been found and had not eaten throughout because they were so worried.
Naidu said detectives, police officials and even the police helicopter were called in to assist.
Police also printed out pamphlets that were used by search parties.
PLEASE NOTE: This article has been edited to include the correct spelling of the toddlers' names as police initially provided the incorrect spelling.