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MISSING CHILD

Search for Joslin — police grill four ‘people of interest’ while officers, dog unit scour Saldanha rubbish dump

Search for Joslin — police grill four ‘people of interest’ while officers, dog unit scour Saldanha rubbish dump
Police cross the Vredenburg landfill on 5 March 2024 during the search for six-year-old Joslin Smith, who has been missing since 19 February. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Police have taken in four people of interest for questioning in connection with the disappearance of six-year-old Joslin Smith, who went missing in Diazville, Saldanha, on 19 February. Daily Maverick visited the area this week where search operations were under way in refuse dumps and elsewhere. Sifting operations include more than 100,000 tonnes of rubbish and waste.

On Wednesday, police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa confirmed that Western Cape detectives were questioning two men and two women aged between 26 and 34, adding that with the investigation gaining momentum, arrests were on the cards.

The four have not been charged, so the police cannot reveal their names.

Joslin went missing on 19 February in Diazville, Saldanha. Joslin’s mother, Kelly Smith, said at the time that the last time she saw her daughter was when she left for work on 19 February at about 8am. She left the little girl with her boyfriend, Jacquin Appollis. When she returned to her home in Diazville at about 5pm, Joslin was not there.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Police scale down search for six-year-old Joslin Smith after a week with no leads.”

This latest development comes a day after Daily Maverick was on the ground, accompanying police and law enforcement officers, wearing rubber gloves and masks, to the Saldanha Bay Municipality dumping site. They were tasked with sorting through refuse dumped over the past three weeks.

The Vredenburg landfill receives rubbish from Saldanha Bay, Langebaan, Hopefield, Laingville and Vredenburg.

The Police K9 Unit combs through the Vredenburg landfill on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

A police dog at the Vredenburg dump during the search for Joslin Smith on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The search team arrived at the site at about 10am and were shown an area about 50m wide and 100m long where rubbish from those areas had been dumped since February 19.

However, the search by hand could not begin due to two layers of debris that had been compressed by a compaction machine. Site management told police the layers were about a metre high, each topped with a layer of sand. The layers had to be separated using a rubble removal machine before the search could begin.

At about noon the dog unit arrived and the dog handler guided his dog through the designated area, but found nothing.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm Pojie said: “The search team will have to shift through the rubble of Saldanha Bay, Langebaan, Hopefield, Laingville and Vredenburg dumped at the site the past three weeks. Police have begun, and we cannot predict how long this process will take.”

Pojie added that since Joslin’s disappearance several people of interest had been taken in for questioning, but no charges laid.

Waste picker Lorenzo Manuel, talks to Daily Maverick at the Vredenburg landfill on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Police prepare to search the Vredenburg landfill on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The Vredenburg dumpsite on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Joslin

A tractors brings in rubbish at the Vredenburg landfill on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Piles of rubbish

While police were scouring the dump more than 10 trucks, each with a 45kg load of waste, arrived at the weighbridge at the entrance.

Records seen by Daily Maverick show that more than 100,000 tonnes of rubbish and waste from the areas had been dumped at the site since Joslin’s disappearance. Police will have to sift through  rubbish that includes nappies, compressed plastic cooldrink bottles, broken glass bottles, rotten vegetables, compressed milk cartons, broken bicycle and car tyres and stinking wet waste.

While seagulls drink from a small, stinking puddle opposite the site, more than 50 waste pickers sift through the piles of refuse, trying to salvage anything of value, despite the presence of hazardous waste. One of them, Lorenzo Manuel (21), told Daily Maverick he was aware of Joslin’s disappearance and had been at the dump when she went missing.

“I have been scavenging this tip for the last five years. I collect empty tins and sell them to earn money for food. I didn’t see her body among the rubble. We sift through piles of trash as tall as three metres. We haven’t seen any bloodstained clothes or body parts between the rubble since she went missing,” he said.

Joslin Smith

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

The home of missing Joslin Smith in Diazville, Saldanha, on 5 March 2024. Her mother moved for safely reasons. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Joslin

Father of missing six-year-old Joslin Smith, Josh Emke, speaks to Daily Maverick in Saldanha on 2 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Sleepless night

Joslin’s biological father, Josh Emke (43), suffers from epilepsy and appeared fatigued. Since his daughter disappeared, he has struggled to sleep at his parents’ home on Galjoen Street in Diazville.

“It is very sad for me that my child has simply vanished and no one wants to know where she is. I still believe my child is alive and have many dreams about her. I want to thank the community members who are still looking for my child,” he added.

He said his child had allegedly been sold and that a suspect had been arrested, but Pojie has dismissed these claims.

Asked if he was part of any search, the father said: “I cannot walk for hours in the heat for the sake of my health and was not part of any search party.”

A girl walks home from school in Saldanha on 5 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Tensions high

Smith, Joslin’s mother, lives in the Middelpos informal settlement, about 3km from the girl’s father’s parents. She was not at home on Tuesday.

The area appeared deserted, with a slimy green river running past her shack. A dog lay on its side in a rubbish bin, and a puppy on a dirty carpet in front of the shack.

Tensions were high when about 50 people gathered on an open field in the area, using loudspeakers to demand the release of a person suspected of buying the child. Police kept a close eye on the crowd, which dispersed peacefully.

On Tuesday, the Human Rights Commission’s Chris Nissen said he visited the area on Monday and was well aware of the fake news surrounding Joslin’s disappearance.

“Let the police do their investigation and proceed without interference,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Terrible and inhumane’ — fake news in continued search for Joslin Smith condemned”

On Wednesday, Potelwa said the team of detectives visited several sites in the West Coast town and interviewed several other people. 

Individuals, NGOs, community activists, police officials, neighbourhood watches and representatives from different spheres of government had joined the search across vast areas in Saldanha Bay, including the dump.

“It is envisaged that as the investigation unfolds light will be shed as to her whereabouts or what happened to her. With the investigation gaining momentum, arrests are on the cards,” Potelwa said. DM

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