The body of the 8-year-old girl that fell into the canal at the Vygieskraal informal settlement in Athlone has not yet been retrieved, despite an extensive search over the past few days.
It has been just under a week since little Abieda Steenkamp was washed away in the canal under severe rainy conditions, while she was playing at the banks of the canal with a group of her friends. The search for both, Steenkamp and the unknown man that jumped in to save her were quickly halted due to inclement weather.
Recounting the details of the incident on VOC’s Breakfast Beat show on Monday morning, local Imam Salie Davids said the search party started and ended in very quick procession.
“As the community we decided that it is our responsibility and we need to continue the search for the little girl and then gentleman that went in after her. Sadly, we cannot depend on any government officials,” stated Imam Davids.
Imam Davids claimed if the girl was from a more affluent area or even a different race, the search party would have responded differently and acted with extreme urgency.
“When we questioned why officials were searching for between one-two hours, the answers we received were not adequate. It isn’t fair and I don’t want to play the race card but if this was a white area, then I am certain helicopters would have been deployed and the president would come out and made an appeal to have residents come out and help search parties,” said Imam Davids.
Davids reiterated the inequality that people living n informal settlements have to deal with.
“Just because we live in the Vlei does not mean we are any less. We are not all druggies, we are humans too and deserve to be treated as such,” stated Imam Davids.
Imam Davids said ward councillor of Ward 48 in Athlone, Magadien Davids, has informed them that the search had been called indefinitely and at that point in time, officials were awaiting the bodies to appear from the canal. Furthermore, Imam Davids said there were concerns that the group of children that witnessed the incident were not offered any trauma counselling.
However, Davids stated that counselling would be availed to the children on Monday, some five days later.
“Disaster Risk Management were on the scene and they handled the situation and I was under the impression they would have ensured the counselling is received by the group of children that witnessed the incident,” stated Davids.
Davids said the scene was handed over to Western Cape SAPS and denied that the search was called off indefinitely. Davids added that the search party went as far as Milnerton to seek for the bodies for both individuals.
“I am meeting with the Colonel from the Athlone SAPS who will brief me on how far along the search is and who will also provide me with much needed feedback,” said Davids.