'Missing people' do not always go missing

Botswana, which is a small country by population, has been experiencing a large number of missing persons.

Every year the police record high numbers of people who go missing. But are these cases genuine or it is just a case of a naughty girl who has sneaked out to go and see her boyfriend? According to the police, 800 people were reported missing in the country since last year. Most of them were found alive. Statistics from the police show that out of this number, 658 were found alive and 47 dead. Seventy six are still missing.

Botswana Police public relations officer (PRO), Assistant Commissioner, Chris Mbulawa, considers cases of missing people to be "a complex matter". He says, though, that the rate of recovery has been "very high".  The police are always disturbed when people go missing.  "One case is just too many.  I think the situation could be minimised if people can take personal security as a priority," said the police chief. Mbulawa said circumstances under which people go missing vary.  Some people who were reported "missing" had actually not disappeared.   Some involve young girls who would be whiling away time with their boyfriends.  Mbulawa spoke about one such case when a young lady was reported to be missing. After the police had announced that the young lady was missing, she came out of her "hiding place" to warn the police them that she was not a "lost cow".  Apparently, she was having a good time with her boyfriend. The young lady had informed one of the relatives about her whereabouts but they did not want to confront her boyfriend. They decided to report her as a missing person. Mbulawa spoke about another case in which a young man went to Gantsi to have fun for a week. He was shocked when he returned to find that people were looking for him.

But there are also genuine cases of people who go missing. The majority of cases of missing persons happen in the rural areas.

Mbulawa spoke about people who get lost in the bush. He said at times it could be due to aging when old people lose their memory. Sometimes these cases involve people with a history of mental illness. Mbulawa said some people there have been cases when people went astray after they had one too many alcoholic drinks.  This also occurs mostly in the countryside.  A great number of missing people's cases involve children. Suddenly, the child could land on unfamiliar terrain.  In such a case in Molepolole a few years ago, a four year old boy accompanied her aunt to visit a friend. As the two women were happily chatting, the child became impatient and decided to go home on his own. He never arrived. It is not known what happened to him. The boy has still not been found.Members of the community mounted an intensive man hunt for the boy but it was all in vain. 

The family of the boy roped in the services of the Eloyi Church to assist them to locate him.  The members of Eloyi, in their colourful regalia, conducted a ritual at the family homestead. The exercise, which had drawn members of the public, was meant exorcise evil spirits. The Eloyi elders claimed that the boy was kept at a house in the village.  But the police stopped them from raiding the house fearing that it might spark riots.

Mbulawa said there are cases of missing people where the police suspect foul play. The police spokesman said there have been cases where some missing people were found dead in dubious circumstances. One of the cases that he mentioned involved a missing primary school girl. Her body parts were missing. The police suspected that this was a murder case and they are still investigating.  The police have issued a reward of P50,000 for anyone that who comes up with information that could lead to the arrest of the suspects.

Another case Mbulawa recalled is that of a child who  went missing in Molepolole. The child was killed for ritual purposes. The culprits were arrested and convicted in court.

This year, a Seepapitso Senior Secondary School teacher went missing from his marital home in Mochudi. The teacher was found dead some weeks later and his relatives suspect foul play.  Mbulawa noted that members of the public are in the habit of pointing fingers at other people when someone has gone missing.  He cited one incident in Tonota when an expatriate lady went missing. He said some people were accused of abducting the lady for ritual purposes. It only turned out that the lady died when she was helped by another person to commit an abortion. He said people always think that when someone has gone missing, that person has been killed for ritual person. He noted that this is not always the case. He said some people who go missing are killed by wild animals.

Others, he said, die from thirst. He said there have also been some cases when women have been abducted by men then subject them to sexual abuse. To avoid being reported to be missing, Mbulawa said people must take some precautions when they go out for a while. He said they should always leave out messages.

They should also reveal the names of people who are accompanying. The police chief said people should also be in the habit of carrying their identify cards with them. 

He said this for ease of identification if you might be involved in an accident.

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