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Fourth suspect in critical Joshlin Smith disappearance case ditches bail application 

Fourth suspect in critical Joshlin Smith disappearance case ditches bail application 
Lorentia Lombaard, the fourth accused charged in connection with the disappearance of Joshlin Smith, briefly appeared in the Vredenburg Magistrate Court on Monday. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Lorentia Lombaard, the fourth suspect arrested in connection with the disappearance of six-year-old Joshlin Smith who has made a confession, has abandoned her bail.

Lorentia Lombaard, who was added as the fourth accused in this case last week, appeared briefly before Magistrate Yoliso Sipoyo in the Vredenburg Magistrates Court on Monday to determine whether she will apply for bail or abandon it.

In brief proceedings that lasted less than five minutes, the accused informed the court that she was withdrawing her bail application. Lombaard now joins co-accused, Racquel Chantel Smith, also known as Kelly, the mother of missing Joshlin (6), her boyfriend Jacquen Appollis and Steveno van Rhyn, who face charges of kidnapping and human trafficking stemming from Joshlin’s disappearance.

Joshlin went missing on 19 February near Tsitsiratsitsi, Middelpos, Saldanha. The version of her mother, Kelly, was the last time she saw her daughter was when she left for work at approximately 8am the same day. She claimed that she left the little girl with her boyfriend, Appollis.  However, Joshlin was not present when Smith arrived home at around 5 pm.

Following the court proceedings, Eric Ntabazalila, regional Western Cape National Prosecutor spokesperson, was peppered with questions about the contents of Lombaard’s confession and whether it revealed anything concrete about Joshlin’s whereabouts.

Ntabazalila’s only response was: “The fact that the confession was not discussed in court means the NPA cannot divulge anything at this stage”.

It has been 36 days since Joshlin went missing, and police have yet to find her. The disappearance and alleged human trafficking of six-year-old Joshlin Smith has focused attention on the scourge of human trafficking plaguing South Africa.

Human trafficking stalks South Africa

On Monday, Daily Maverick spoke with Candice van der Rheede, founder of the Western Cape Missing Persons Unit, which was established in 2017. She has been actively part of search teams looking for missing children throughout the Western Cape.

Regarding Joshlin’s long absence, Van der Rheede said: “From my experience the long time that has elapsed since Joshlin’s disappearance says to me the child is no longer in the area. The golden hour, the first hour to locate a missing child, has passed. It also takes about the same amount of time for a missing child to disappear from the area where the child went missing.”

Human trafficking is one of the charges the four accused faced in connection with Joshlin’s disappearance. Van der Rheede elaborated on Joshlin’s alleged human trafficking and underlined that traffickers are skilled at taking children.

“If Joshlin was trafficked, none of the accused would know where she is right now. Traffickers are always hours ahead of SAPS because by the time a child is reported missing, the traffickers have already moved a victim out of the area,” she explained.

Meanwhile, an independent trafficking specialist and author Professor Philip Frankel, told Daily Maverick according to estimates from international organisations there could be as many as 220,000 to 250,000 people who are trafficked in South Africa.

Frankel has worked on trafficking issues for over a decade and also authored, ‘Long Walk to Walk to Nowhere: Human Trafficking in Post-Mandela South Africa’, which came out in 2017.

On Monday 26 June 2023, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) published a study on human trafficking. The new book Human Trafficking in South Africa, is an update of Frankel’s earlier book.

According to Frankel, trafficking has increased precipitously in the wake of Covid-19 and increased rolling blackouts to unprecedented levels. According to international barometers, South Africa’s counter-trafficking initiatives are stalled and losing ground.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The voices of human trafficking victims and survivors must be heard above all others to elicit change

“There are international barometers that measure trafficking in every country around the world and are compiled by the US Secretary of State. Last year’s calculation put us at two minuses on a scale of one to five. One equals everything is done, two equals we are trying but not succeeding, so we are very much in the mist internationally,” he said.

According to a US Department of State report titled 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: South Africa, SA’s government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.

Frankel added: “Trafficking is not just cross-border; people arriving undocumented from various parts of Africa are an internal problem; young people travelling between KZN and Gauteng are frequently picked up by traffickers and sold into commercial sex markets.

“Our most common form of trafficking in this country is labour trafficking; we suspect labour trafficking in a variety of sectors of the economy, including agriculture and mining, with fisheries serving as major outlets. Trafficking involves more than just sex; it also includes serious labour offences, particularly the exploitation of undocumented migrants for labour.”

Meanwhile, according to SAPS national spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, 348 children under the age of 18 were reported missing between September 2023 and February 27, 2024.

“The total number of people found or returned voluntarily is 207. Total active is still missing 141. It is important to note that the SAPS Circulation system is live, and figures are constantly changing,” she added.

Mathe reiterated that child protection remains a top priority for the SAPS, and that small children should never be left unattended, adding that if a child is not in the sight of an entrusted person, the possibility of harm to the child increases.

“When a vulnerable child is missing, the incident must be reported to the SAPS immediately, with emphasis on immediately!” she exclaimed.

“An investigation into the disappearance of a child may never be ‘closed’ by the SAPS unless the child is found,” she said.

Meanwhile, the four accused in Joshlin’s human trafficking and kidnapping case return to the Vredenburg Magistrates Court on 13 May. The long period of postponement allows the investigation team to follow up on all possible leads. DM

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