Johannesburg - Claims have been made by a security guard that police in Diepsloot, took 30 minutes to get to the scene where six-year-old Angel Sibanda was last seen alive before she disappeared and drowned, last week Thursday.
Sibusiso Nhleko told GroundUP that Angel fell into a tributary that feeds into the Jukskei River, let out a scream and then he saw her hand as she floated beneath a new, multi-million rand bridge over Jukskei River at Extension 6. Nhleko is a security guard at the dual lane bridge which is yet to open to traffic.
In the background lies the new traffic bridge that crosses over the Jukskei River. In the foreground, is the tributary that Angel Sibanda tried to cross. She slid all the way into the Jukskei River and under the bridge. Photo: Benita Enoch
Her body was found on Sunday, by a fisherman, approximately 10KM away from where Nhleko saw her falling in.
Angel’s parents, Siboniso Sibanda and Thabani Tschume, want the City of Johannesburg (COJ) to erect footbridges over the tributary where their child slipped, so that no other parent loses a child as they did. The provision of infrastructure in Extension 6 was a concern to them and others, who complained that when it rains, dirt roads turn into rivers that spread debris and cause potholes.
The shacks in the area have electricity and communal taps and toilets, but there are puddles of dirty water everywhere and boulders strewn about. The area around the shack where Angel lived has no pavements for pedestrians to walk on, and no storm water drains. Residents say when it rains water gushes down alleys and walkways.
A panaromic shot of Diepsloot extension 6. To the right is where Angel Sibanda tried to cross a tributary to get to her home. Photo: Benita Enoch
COJ spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said in the 2014/15 financial year, more than R67 million was spent on infrastructure in Diepsloot including roads, maintenance, storm water drains, housing, bulk water infrastructure, clinics, and recreation facilities.
"...Diepsloot is sometimes jokingly referred to as a “community under construction” due to the number of infrastructure projects being undertaken in the area by both the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government to improve the residents’ quality of life," Modingoane said. He would not be drawn into when the area's "township" status would be lifted.
Describing the day Angel died, he said: "Unfortunately at that moment three school kids were swept by the flash floods trying to cross the shallow earth channel from school."
Is it precisely that "shallow earth channel" or tributary, the community want secured with fixed structures.
On the route Angel used to get to Diepsloot Primary School 4, there is no formal structure to cross over, just two small concrete slabs. Tens of children cross over that spot at least twice a day, as they go to and from school.
School children cross the tributary at the spot where Angel Sibanda lost her footing during a flash flood. Two concrete slabs serve as a bridge. Photo: Benita Enoch
Diepsloot DA councillor Refilwe Mathebula echoed calls for a footbridge, hand rail or some form of structure to help pedestrians get cross more safely. She described Angel's death as "a tragedy waiting to happen". The tragedy could have been prevented if the needs of the community had been been properly assessed and addressed, Mathebula said.
Children living in an area where there were flash floods should be taught water safety, she added.
"We also need to question why Angel was sent to a school so far away from her house. The whole schooling district system needs to be properly assessed and adjusted in line with the financial barriers parents in the community have,” Mathebula said.
She said Angel's six-months pregnant mother needed vast support during her time of grief. "As a woman and mother, my concern right now, is for her health and that of her unborn baby. She needs counselling, assistance with funeral arrangements and pre-natal care."
Mathebula said with Diepsloot's new police station only a few kilometres away, it should not have taken as long as 30 minutes to reach the scene where Angel was last seen alive.
Diepsloot police spokesperson Warrant Officer Daniel Mavimbela would not comment immediately when asked about police reaction time.
Angel's parents, recounted Thursday's events, saying it rained in torrents. Sibanda said she became concerned when by 2PM, Angel had not returned from school.
"I called my neighbour to ask her if Angel went to her house. She said no. Then, I went to her school to look for her, but her classroom was already locked. I saw a group [of people] gathering at the bridge, so I went there to see if anyone had seen her and someone told me a body had floated down the river. I described what Angel was wearing that day (a white shirt and gray skirt) but nobody had seen her."
"Angel's father used to walk her to school and pick her up in the afternoons," she said. On Thursday, however, Tschume had received a sudden call about a garden job in Honeydew. He said after months without work, he took the job. He wasn't present to pick Angel up and that's the day she died.
Sibanda said she wished the school had held the children back and called for parents to walk them home that day because of the rain. She said she held out hope that her child was still alive until police phoned on Sunday to say her child's body had been found.
The Jukskei Rivier in which Angel Sibanda was swept into during flash floods. The water is known to be polluted and covered in boulders. Photo: Benita Enoch
Angel had only just started going to Grade 1. Her mother said she was extremely close to both her parents, even sharing their bed because she didn't like to sleep alone. Her father says he can't think about the fear his child must have felt as she slid down into the river or how he's going to continue living without ever seeing her again.
Angel's funeral is set to take place on Sunday at 10AM, in Diepsloot. She will be buried in a nearby cemetery. Her parents have requested the assistance of the community to host her funeral service.
Watch an interview with Sibusiso Nhleko who witnessed Angel Sibanda being swept away on during the flash flood, in the video below.