New missing persons unit hopes to make a difference

Communities have come together to form their own missing persons unit. Picture: Supplied

Communities have come together to form their own missing persons unit. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 2, 2024


Cape Town - A group of child activists in Cape Town have launched their own missing persons unit following the disappearance of Joshlin Smith in Saldanha.

The new initiative, led by well-known crimefighters across various communities, including Byron de Villiers, Lucinda Evans, Sandy Schuter, Abie Isaacs and Lynne Phillips, saw the group host an awareness campaign about the new project named, The Collective Missing persons and Gender-Based Violence Unit.

During Child Protection week the group shared their initiative with communities stretching from Mitchells Plain to Lavender Hill after months of training a team of 50 volunteers and equipping them to assist authorities in searches.

De Villiers said in the aftermath of Joshlin’s disappearance the group became concerned with the violation of the Standing Operating Procedures and interference from political leaders and social media influencers.

“We watched the Joshlin fallout with much disappointment. In our group we all served on the Mitchells Plain police cluster and spent many years training and assisting police in searches to make sure the job was done right.

“If you look at the Joshlin search, it was very concerning to see the gross violations and the interference by political parties and influencers who in fact had no idea what they were doing.

“They took this case and capitalised on it to get attention on social media and that is not what child protection is about. Each time they spread stories, trampled on potential crime scenes and basically wreaked havoc.”

Over the past few months the unit has been providing training to a group of 50 volunteers, which also includes crime scene management.

Each volunteer has been strictly vetted to ensure they pose no danger to the communities they are expected to work in.

“The training includes what procedures as per SAPS should be carried out when a child is missing, the establishment of a Joint Operations Centre.

“We have also provided Emergency First Aid Responders training, so if they find a missing person who is injured they can assist, as well as crime scene management, so if they come across a body they know how to preserve the crime scene for the detectives.”

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

The unit has been amalgamated with a voluntary K9 Unit established in Lentegeur several years ago, where volunteer dog handlers have been assisting with searches.

De Villiers said each volunteer has been completely kitted out with backpacks, torches and other necessary items.

“All the equipment has been given to the volunteers to ensure they are always prepared. Lucinda was able to get a van donated to the unit, but among our remaining challenges are transport and food items such as water.

“We are calling on taxi associations to partner with us where we can call on them if we need transport while working on a case.”

Picture: Supplied

De Villiers said the unit will host an official launch later this month and will be meeting with police and City officials in the hopes of forming partnerships.

“We are going to the provincial police to partner with them as well as the Safety and Security department at the City. At this point we have not formally made any proposals as we first wanted to get all our ducks in a row before we approached them.”

If you would like to assist, call Byron de Villiers on 071 449 5496 or Sandy Schuter on 071 947 8294.

Cape Argus