Sex worker, cops and street kids help find Naledi

A tip-off from a Jika Joe sex worker led to Naledi Zondo’s parents and the police joining forces with Durban’s street kids to find the Prestbury girl who had run away from home last Monday. 

Angry at having been reprimanded over something she had done, Naledi (12) hatched a plan to go to a family friend in Eshowe. She got as far as Durban, where she was finally found.

Read: Missing Prestbury girl

The rescue mission was set in motion on Thursday by a sex worker from Jika Joe settlement, who had seen Naledi on the streets of the city.

When she saw her photo on a missing person’s flyer she immediately phoned Naledi’s mother, Nokulunga Zondo, and told her she had overheard Naledi talking about going to Eshowe.

Hoping to head her off before she got there, a search team, which was led by Detective Omichund Sanka, then drove to Durban where the sex worker recruited some street kids to assist as they combed the city throughout the night.

“We started at the Durban Station and ended up at the Point [beachfront promenade] where we were led to a pimp who specialises in young children,” Zondo said at her home on Sunday.

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The pimp was hostile at first but eventually helped them visit places where street kids sleep at night. They ended up at Durban’s piers where they discovered that Naledi had been seen with a “respected criminal” known as Ngagara (boss). Ngagara later turned out to be a 15-year-old who specialises in robberies, but who neither drinks nor smokes.

“We came back home at around 4 am but we were back on the road around 7 am to search again because we didn’t want to give Naledi an opportunity to leave town or go underground ... we didn’t know what Ngagara was going to do since he now knew that we were looking for them,” said Zondo.

She said she started thinking the worst when she saw the sun setting again on Friday without her daughter in sight.

At around 8 pm a street artist to whom they had given a pamphlet with Naledi’s photo called Zondo.

“He [the artist] was reading a newspaper with her picture when she walked past. She was wearing a hoodie and trying to hide her face but he was able to see that it was her,” said Zondo.

The street artist collared both Naledi and Ngagara and waited until Zondo and the sex worker arrived from across town.

Zondo said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she saw her daughter and her body started shaking as the adrenaline left her.

“After hugging her I had to sit down because my knees just gave in. I was happy to see my Naledi but my heart broke when I saw how young Ngagara was. I started thinking that he should also be going home to his parents,” said Zondo.

Naledi has been back home since Saturday and her parents say she appears to be unharmed and has not been exposed to drugs.

“She seems okay, but we are going to go for counselling,” said Zondo.

She added that they had received tremendous support from friends and strangers, some of whom came all the way from Johannesburg, to help with the search.

Others brought the family cooked meals every day and ensured that the other two children in the house were taken care of.

Zondo said: “I might have been alone in my fear and heart but I was never alone the whole time Naledi was out there because there was always someone standing by me physically or on the phone encouraging me to remain strong.

“God also showed me the selflessness of the people who are often shunned by society because of how they earn their living — they searched with me day and night even though there was no reward for them,” she said.

Naledi’s father, Siza Khumalo, said he would be eternally grateful for the dedication shown by police officers such as Sanka and Major-General Phume Mkhoba.