- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

DURBAN, South Africa In what local South Africans have called a miracle, a 3-year-old boy is alive and recovering after 21 days, apparently alone, in the harsh veld terrain of Free State province.

The child, Michael Raadt, and his 2-year-old cousin, Thabiso, wandered into the veld last month from the Noupoort farm outside Luckhoff, a town in the semiarid west of the province.

At this time of year South Africa's summer daytime temperatures in the veld can exceed 104 degrees in the sun, with the sparse shade offering little relief. At night, the temperature falls to 50 degrees or lower. The area is bleak, rough, dry and sparsely populated.

Alarms sounded when the children were missed, and local police enlisted the help of a special dog unit from the nearby Northern Cape. They failed to find the boys.

Such cases are the terror of black parents in South Africa. It is not uncommon in some regions for children to be kidnapped and killed, their body parts rendered for "muti," or magic.

And in recent times, a spate of child rapes has surfaced, stemming from the myth, encouraged by some sangomas, or witch doctors, that sex with a virgin can cure one who suffers from AIDS.

In November, six men in Northern Cape were arrested for raping a 9-month-old who survived the assault.

Three days after the two Free State boys disappeared, a farmer near the Orange River spotted the younger, Thabiso, about 25 miles from the children's home.

Police said the child was "in a very bad condition," and he was hospitalized, though he was released three days later, apparently showing no lasting effects.

The hunt for Michael continued despite the community's dimming hopes as more days passed.

On New Year's Eve, farmer Johan Lombard was walking on his land not far from the Noupoort farm when he saw the body of a child lying next to the farm dam.

The child was dressed only in a T-shirt and appeared to be either unconscious or dead.

Mr. Lombard called the local police, who resuscitated the child and took him to a local hospital, where doctors say the boy should recover.

Locals, who doubt that even an adult could survive for more than 10 days alone in the veld, see the child's survival as nothing less than a miracle.

Law enforcement officials are skeptical, however, believing foul play may still be involved, according to the Southern Free State police commissioner.

Commissioner Toni Senne told reporters the police are "investigating all possibilities" about the child's disappearance.

Michael has been unable to tell the police or hospital staffers how he managed to survive.

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