Nine months ago, 40-year-old Pretoria electrician Thabiso Daniel Mofokeng was driving home after a night out with friends in Atteridgeville, west of the city, when he vanished without a trace.
The father of two, who was driving a blue Opel Astra, left his friends at 2am and they were the last people to see him.
It’s a story that’s all too common in South Africa, with at least 367 people, including children, listed on the SA Police Service’s website as missing.
Pink Ladies, an organisation established to reunite missing people with their loved ones, has a list of at least 60 cold cases of missing children. One case in Rustenburg, North West, dates back to 2001.
The National Investigations Bureau, a Cape Town-based private investigation firm, receives up to two cases of missing persons a week and claims to have a success rate of 80%.
Director Danie van Heerden said cases of missing persons could involve drugs, human trafficking, kidnappings for ransom or neglected children running away from home. Some people just pack up and disappear, he added.
“Some people run away from their debts. They leave to start a new life somewhere.
“Some get away with it, but for some the wheel turns and they get busted.
“We also deal with cases of people who fake a kidnapping to solicit money from their relatives or parents.”
He said the most common cases were drug-related, with drug users disappearing after running up a huge bill with a druglord. The druglord would eventually contact the drug-user’s family to demand payment of the money they owed.
These were pretty easy cases to solve as the people involved have a drug habit, he added.
“The first point of call here will be the person’s friends, but in some cases it is terrible because we have to go where no one wants to go.
“We have informants in the underworld and also work closely with the police,” he said.
Van Heerden said it was important to put up missing person alerts on social media and that getting experts involved fast made a huge difference.
Professor Cheryl Potgieter, a psychologist attached to the Durban University of Technology, said having a family member go missing was not just traumatic, but that it had health and economic implications.
“The impact is psychological but it also impacts physical health and finances.
“They will have to put up posters, they need to pay for petrol to go around looking for that person, sometimes they stay off work and lose their jobs.
“So it is a vicious cycle and there is a chain reaction on everybody involved,” she added.
Gauteng MEC for community safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane has said that the fate of 400 women missing in Gauteng was unknown.