Tonny Adams woke up on a sunny morning in 1991 in Soweto, and got ready for work. It was a day like any other… until the police came for him. Tonny was at work when the police arrived. They informed Tonny’s boss that they needed to take him for a few hours, and would bring him back to work when they were finished. Tonny was never seen again.

Tonny’s elder sister, Elizabeth, has been searching for him ever since the morning he left for work and never returned. Tonny and Elizabeth had a close relationship. He called her every week to check in. When he stopped calling Elizabeth went to the police. No one could give her any information about her brother. On the same day Elizabeth reported Tonny missing to the police, their father received a call from a stranger, telling him that Tonny was in Durban, over 500 kilometers away from where he disappeared.

Elizabeth reached out to a radio broadcaster who she knew helped to trace missing people. She told the broadcaster about the phone call her father had received, claiming her brother was in Durban. Two days later, the broadcaster confirmed the information – Tonny was in fact in a prison in Durban.

Elizabeth spent a month saving the money to travel to Durban to find her brother. When she finally had the money, she walked into the prison feeling hopeful. When she arrived she waited for group after group of prisoners to come out to see their visitors, and in the sea of faces before her, not a single one was her brother. Elizabeth asked a guard to help her. He came back and told her that there was in fact a man named Tonny Adams in the prison, but he was refusing to see her unless she gave Tonny 20 Rand. In this moment, Elizabeth knew something wasn’t right. But in an act of desperation, she gave the guard the money. A few minutes later, “Tonny Adams” appeared. Elizabeth had never seen this man. He was not her brother.

In the following years, Elizabeth continued searching for her brother. She traveled to Petermaritzburg, and to a prison on Pinetown. Time after time, she was given false information. With each new place she traveled on her search, her brother was nowhere to be found. Twenty-six years later, Tonny is still missing.

Tonny has a child. Elizabeth explained that her brother’s disappearance has torn up her family, and created great conflict. Without a father, this child is struggling. Elizabeth, who struggles to make ends meet herself, does everything she can to help her nephew. This child is failing to have his most basic needs met. Recently, Elizabeth had to buy him a pair of shoes.

Tonny’s case needs proper investigation. Elizabeth has tried and tried, but no one is helping her. One of the provisions of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance calls upon states to thoroughly investigate disappearances without bias or intimidation. Elizabeth and other families of the disappeared need South Africa to ratify this Convention. They need to find their loved ones.

“You fight this thing, but you don’t have any power. You need power. You need backup. I just don’t know what to do, but I will look for him until I die.” – Elizabeth Adams


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