FOUR-YEAR-OLD girl from Mangwe, who got lost on her way home from school, miraculously survived two cold nights in an animal infested forest.
A search party comprising about 100 villagers, seven police officers and two sniffer dogs found Ntokozo Mabhena, a pre-school learner, asleep under a tree on Sunday evening.
Ntokozo had wandered about 35 kilometres from the school in Macingwane Village on Friday afternoon, to Kwite, a neighbouring Village.
Villagers said the little girl had lost weight but was otherwise unharmed. She is suspected to have survived on wild fruits. Search parties lit huge fires at night to keep away predators but the tot miraculously survived her ordeal unscathed.
Her family told The Chronicle yesterday that they had lost hope she would be found alive because dangerous wild animals like leopards, hyenas and poisonous snakes roam the bush where she got lost.
The girl’s grandmother, Lizzy Dumani, was so overcome with emotion when she saw her alive that she collapsed and regained consciousness in hospital.
She told The Chronicle she was part of the search team but she gave up on Saturday morning as she was overwhelmed by grief. Dumani said she became alarmed after her grandchild had not returned from pre-school by 3PM on Friday which compelled her to alert her neighbours.
“As a family we’re still shocked but Ntokozo has returned to her normal life as if nothing happened.
“She isn’t even saying anything about the incident and I’m not sure whether she is aware of what happened to her.
“She didn’t even shed a tear or show any signs of being scared. It’s as though nothing happened to her. We’re just grateful that she is safe,” said Dumani. One of the members of the search crew, Bakhethi Nleya, said they combed through rocky, thorny and bushy paths to find the girl.
“We were totally exhausted when we finally found her. We wonder how she covered all that distance,” said Nleya.
“We suffered bruises and cuts trying to find her but to our surprise, she didn’t have any injuries. “The bush which she cut across is infested with cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, pythons, mountain cobras among other predators,” he said.
“We were tracking her shoe prints but in some cases she was straying from the path and going across rocky areas. In such cases we were forced to split into groups and search across the area until we could retrace her shoe prints.
“In some cases she was stopping by wild fruit trees to get something to eat. When we found her, all her belongings she carries to school were still intact,” said Nleya.
The councillor of Izimnyama Small Scale area, Peter Ndlovu, said the police and community members had played a crucial role in locating the missing girl.
He said the police responded quickly while the entire community had contributed in finding Ntokozo.
Ndlovu said villagers felt it was a miracle that the girl survived two cold nights and wild animals alone in the bush.
“We thought she was dead when we saw her under the tree. Imagine the relief when she sat up and asked for water and food,” he said. chronicle