By Ackel Zwane
It is slightly over a year since two young girls went missing at Nyanyali, an otherwise quiet settlement along the banks of Mkhondvo River on the margins of the Manzini and Shiselweni regions, but fear grips every homestead now that next year is the national elections when citizens go missing each time the nation goes to the polls because of a rise in cases of ritual killings.
Since police called off the searches early last year, after the toddlers went missing on Christmas Eve of 2020, there has been growing unrest emanating from allegations that police turned their efforts on the afflicted family and instead freed suspects to return and roam free in the community.
The missing toddlers, Bayabongwa ‘Drum Boss’ Dludlu and her cousin Tipho Zilenhle Dludlu, were both aged two and a half years.
A crisis committee was set up to negotiate for calm between the families of the suspects and that of the missing toddlers and it was still to report back but they had not up to this far.
Monicah Dlulu (Nee Shabangu) is the grandmother of the toddlers who left them at the entrance of another Dludlu homestead while she proceeded to gather firewood on a nearby hillock that fateful day. She says she will never rest until she finds closure, she believes her grandchildren would one day resurface.
“Every day I can’t find sleep not knowing where the children are.” She is devastated that a suspect confessed in a makeshift court, a kangaroo setting of some sort, in the presence of police that she knew where the children were but her confession was later dismissed by police who diagnosed the suspect as mentally deranged.
“The police turned on me instead and I was arrested together with the youths of the area, who demanded justice. To this day we are still the suspects in the eyes of the police.”
This was after the youths went wild and burned down homesteads of the suspects especially one that was identified by a sniffer dog brought in by Eswatini Royal Police from Montigny Forestry, a private company that has its own highly trained dogs patrolling the vast forest plantations at Bhunya northwest of the country and at Shiselweni in the southern region. The police dogs had failed throughout the several times of combing the nearby mountains for the missing children.
“We are not allowed to say any word about the suspects because we are closely monitored. There is a faction supporting the suspects and they are well taken care of. The best would be for the police to return to Nyanyali and arrest everyone in order to extract the truth instead of targeting certain individuals,” adds the wailing granny.
She says on the day the Montigny dog arrived and stopped at the entrance to a hut at suspect’s homestead its handler said he had accomplished his mission and it was time for the police who had contracted him to take over. He pulled his dog away and left.
“If we asked about the findings of the Montigny dog we were severely beaten up.” Ironically occupants of a homestead in the area were sniffed out by the same Montigny dogs after logs went missing at Shiselweni Forest and they were arrested, one reason the residents smell a rat in the handling of the sniffer dog findings by the police.
An officer working for one of the state security services, who preferred to keep his identity to protect his family, says he cannot perform well up country where he is stationed because he does not know what would happen to his two daughters he left with their mother back at Nyanyali now that campaigning for the elections next year is heating up.
“People go missing each time an election nears and for us at Nyanyali is worse because we may become hunting grounds for ritual murderers. If the state could not protect us, who can?”
A group of women interviewed not so far from the foothills were busy preparing large bails of the golden weed, cannabis, which is the lifeblood of impoverished Nyanyali. They feared not police raids to confiscate the cannabis harvest but to speak about the missing toddlers.
“I feel my bowels moving,” said one young mother who came all the way from the Hhohho region to impart her skills in preparing the weed. As they grade the weed according to quality, price and orders, alongside are young children who cannot possibly be allowed to stray to even as far as the shops by the roadside.
Nkwene Indvuma Yenkhundla, Bongani Dlamini says nothing is happening on the ground since police left. There are neither patrols nor feedback on whether investigations are ongoing or have stalled completely.
Police Public Relations Officer, Superintendent Phindile Vilakati could not provide comment to our enquiries citing that government does not have a policy to deal with online publications as yet, despite that these are fully licenced and regulated under the laws of the kingdom.
However the Royal Eswatini Police Service Annual Report for 2017 says at least 75 people were missing in the country in one month in 2017.
During the period of study, a total of 902 cases of missing persons were recorded. The highest number of people reported missing were females at 561 and there were 341 males. It was stated that 42.9 per cent of these reports were of children under the age of 17 years. Of this high number, 799 of the people were found by the police and they were still alive. The report states that 18 of these people were found dead and 85 are still missing, and their cases are still under active investigation.
“Young children are reported missing on account of running away from home due to the fact that they are abused by their relatives. There are also cases of women who leave their marital homes on reasons that they are being abused by their spouses. Missing persons also include those who have been abducted, as well as those who are of old age, who on account of mental sickness, lose track of where they are. In most cases, these people are located either dead or alive in isolated areas. A dedicated missing persons and trafficking bureau has been established and is fully functional to deal with incidents of missing people,” say police in this 2018 report.
Rwandan Online publication Taarifa.rw, reported on February 22 on what it called a closer sniff through the country’s independent media where it said “Eswatini people live in constant panic and fear of disappearing and never to be heard of again. Hundreds of citizens are allegedly murdered for alleged ritual purposes…”
The publication however cites other national activities outside the elections as other causes of rife ritual murders.
US department of State 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Eswatini; International Child Abductions: “The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.”
Acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, launching Day of the African Child in the year the toddlers disappeared said “Government is fully committed to protecting children through appropriate legislations, policies, programmes & child friendly budgets.”
More quotes: “Out of all investments that the country may embark on, prioritising our children will remain our best option & priority. We know that they are the pillars, first for their households & at a higher scale for sustainable development.”
“Our country is currently ranked number nine in Africa in terms of child protection. Our target is to reach number one & be a country fully fit for every child.”
“It is disheartening to get reports that violence against our children is still high. Recently, there has been more reports on missing children. Some have been found dead, while others are still missing.”