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‘Terrible and inhumane’ — fake news in continued search for Joslin Smith condemned

‘Terrible and inhumane’ — fake news in continued search for Joslin Smith condemned
There is still no trace of six-year-old Joshlin Smith of Saldanha Bay. (Photo: Supplied)

Fake social media videos claiming that six-year-old Joslin Smith’s body has been discovered have angered Saldanha Bay residents, investigators and activists searching for the missing girl.

As police continued the search for Joslin Smith on Tuesday morning, police investigators urged members of the public to refrain from spreading false information on social media and from recording searches, since this could jeopardise the investigation.

Joslin Smith

Residents search for Joslin Smith in Diazville, Saldanha, on 2 March 2024. The Grade 1 Diazville Primary School pupil was last seen on 19 February wearing a light-blue T-shirt and light-blue denim shorts. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Theo Jeptha)

‘Utterly heartless’

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, told Daily Maverick  it was disturbing that people posted fake reports about a missing child. 

“Aside from the reality that this is misleading and constitutes misinformation, the act of doing so is also utterly heartless. We would urge those who create such content to imagine if they were the family and loved ones of a child that is missing and to see content that says your child has passed.

“We tend to see mis- and disinformation on political issues, where it can be equally crass and dehumanising, but to see it relating to a missing child is a new low for abusing social media,” he said. 

Search update

On Monday night, a reliable source told Daily Maverick that forensic tests on bloodstained clothes found on Saturday revealed that the clothes belonged to Joslin. Police were unable to confirm this.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm Pojie did, however, confirm on Sunday that clothing, apparently stained with blood, had been found in an open field during a search. It was sent to the SAPS forensic laboratory for analysis. 

Joslin Smith

Minister of Police Bheki Cele addresses residents during his visit to the home of Kelly Smith, the mother of missing Joslin Smith, in Diazville, Saldanha, on 2 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Theo Jeptha)

Political spat

Saldanha Bay Municipality mayor Andre Truter expressed dissatisfaction that the police had scaled back the search for Joslin. He met Western Cape premier Alan Winde, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

On Thursday, 29 February, the City of Cape Town dispatched police resources to help in the search, including investigators, K9 Unit search dogs, marine unit members and watercraft, drones and experienced search-and-rescue volunteers.  

The DA Western Cape then posted on social media: “ANC Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, has withdrawn SAPS from the search for Joslin Smith who went missing. Despite having fewer powers than SAPS, the DA-led City of Cape Town law enforcers are stepping up to take over the investigation.”

Cele responded the following day, saying he was saddened by the DA politicising a sensitive and painful issue to gain votes.

Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, said the Police Ministry had noted “with disgust” the DA’s social media post.

“For the record and contrary to the lies peddled on the social media post by the DA, the SAPS has not withdrawn from the search for the Grade 1 pupil. The helicopter has been taken off the overall police search plan; however, SAPS K9 units and police members, including investigators, are still actively searching for Joslin.

“It is clear the DA is trying to mislead its supporters and the South African public by peddling misinformation. The use of pain felt by a family who is waiting for their child to come home is most insensitive and is a new low,” Themba said.  

On 3 March, the DA’s JP Smith said on Facebook: “Sadly, part of the investigation had been compromised because of the reckless and irresponsible actions of those seeking political gain out of a very serious issue. In so doing, the lives of innocent persons have been threatened after them being wrongfully accused. If those who claim to be working in the interest of justice, if they have any respect for the law, please allow officials to pursue this matter the right and lawful way.”

Billy Claasen, the executive director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, which is helping to search for Joslin, said: “The police are the only people authorised to investigate crime in this country. As a result, they should be given adequate space to operate and complete their tasks. Political parties should refrain from interfering with law enforcement operations.”

police search joslin smith

Six-year-old Joslin Smith of Saldanha Bay has been missing for a week. (Photo: Supplied)

Search continues

On Saturday, Cele visited Saldanha and assured Diazville residents that police were still working to find the girl.

“From the police side, I want to assure you that no resource will be spared to find her. The police have not withdrawn from this search and they are under a directive to work closer with anyone who comes up with any valuable information that can assist,” he said.

On Monday, Western Cape police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa said the search was intensifying.

“The search party has also been bolstered by a contingent from the local South African Navy joining the search and another large group from the City of Cape Town also deployed from Monday to the area. The Saldanha Bay Municipality’s firefighters are also playing a pivotal role in the search, applying their expertise in the search.

“The South African Police Service has also brought in the services of the mounted unit; more specialised dogs from the K9 Unit are set to scour the identified area. Detectives from the SAPS provincial office in Cape Town have since descended on the West Coast town to support the local investigators,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme J says:

    The question is, do you trust the mad hatter?

  • Iam Fedup says:

    About time the DA started using the same tactics as the ANC. This election is not about truth but about perceptions… and the lies told by the ANC to garner votes. Great that Cele and his fellow thugs get a taste of their own medicine.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      So then, you have absolutely no concern for the young girl who has gone missing? You choose instead to join the queue of persons making political mileage out of a tragedy.
      You couldn’t for a second imagine the terror this young girl might have suffered / be suffering and what you might be feeling if this had happened to someone you love?
      For any political party to seek opportunity to win support out of this – is just mental sickness & there you are cheering it on. I have nothing but contempt for you

    • Grenville Wilson says:

      DA telling lies!! You actually approve? Where is the DA’s response to this? If the DA is spreading this kind of false info, my prediction that they will not be the official opposition at the end of the elections is “IN THE BAG”! Actually to think of it where is the DA leadership? Seems to have disappeared completely.

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      No, a race to the bottom impresses no-one. And while there still exists some major hurdles in arming the average voter with factual info and critical analysis, people are increasingly rejecting disinformation — that is becoming an important theme in this year’s elections.

      I want to assume good faith (rather than some cynical or disingenuous strategy), so I will say that it was a dumb move from CoCT officials and DA media workers to repeat Truter’s incorrect assertions without checking.

  • Deon Schoeman says:

    Thugs killing their own offspring ….always surprised that the “community” is angry ….it is the same community that commit these crimes ….same with gang violence

  • Nicky Blooms says:

    As heartbreaking as this is, the little girl is dead. 🥺 Blood, no body and a search team. She was left in the care of her mother’s boyfriend for the day. As a retired GBV expert, police should be making arrests. Apart from her mum, she was in the boyfriend’s care for the day. All that needed to happen was a skilled investigator needed to interrogate him, in the presence of a SAPS psychologist. Could have broken him within 24 hours and this would have never made headlines. SAPS need to do their jobs properly! This is all their fault. Legally, they can hold yoy without charge for quite a few hours. So what happened? The boyfriend is the suspect that makes sense. She could have been murdered for multiple reasons. e.g Perpetrators kill children who they sexually abuse/rape especially if they don’t listen to them in the moment. All this pain, because her mum trusted the wrong man.

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