Kid­napped Joburg boy’s fam­ily re­calls their or­deal

A Joburg mother’s worst night­mare was re­alised when her six-year-old son was kid­napped and held for ran­som. She opens up about the three-day night­mare


FOR three days she couldn’t eat or sleep – all she did was worry about her son. Was he alive? Was he be­ing fed? Where was he be­ing kept? Lebo Mbalulu* ( 37), whose fam­ily of six sur­vives on three so­cial grants, didn’t think a claim paid out to her daugh­ter in 2014 would to­day haunt her and her fam­ily.

The un­em­ployed mother of four be­lieves the R4-mil­lion pay­ment from the Road Ac­ci­dent Fund is the rea­son her sixyear-old son, Lwazi*, was re­cently kid­napped from their Jo­han­nes­burg home.

Af­ter be­ing held cap­tive for three har­row­ing days, Lwazi is home and un­harmed but Lebo lives in fear crim­i­nals may tar­get them again.

“I’m so grate­ful he’s back but since then I’m suf­fer­ing from pal­pi­ta­tions. Peo­ple think we have money be­cause of that pay out,” Lebo tells us out­side the one-bed­room dwelling she and her fam­ily rents in a back­yard in Malvern, Jo­han­nes­burg.

“What they don’t know is we do not have ac­cess to that money.”

She keeps an eye on Lwazi, who’s play­ing nearby. He was snatched on 26 Oc­to­ber, she says. It was a warm Thurs­day af­ter­noon – she was do­ing laun­dry while he played out­side with friends, and her un­em­ployed hus­band, Cai­phus Ndevu*, was in­side.

She didn’t think any­thing of it when two men ap­proached her ask­ing about Lwazi’s where­abouts. “I told them he was at crèche and they left im­me­di­ately.”

The pair, whom she es­ti­mates to be in their early twen­ties, came back around 5pm. This time they asked the un­sus­pect­ing mother about rent­ing a room. Lebo says they left af­ter she gave them the land­lord’s con­tact de­tails.

“While speak­ing to them I asked his sib­lings, ‘ Where is Lwazi?’ One of them told me that he was speak­ing to an un­cle out­side, so I didn’t worry.”

An hour later she re­alised her son was no longer among his friends, so she asked her daugh­ter, Buhle* (14), to look for the lit­tle one. But Buhle couldn’t find her baby brother.

As ten­sion mounted, fel­low ten­ants, friends and the neigh­bours joined the search.

“I be­gan to cry pro­fusely while my hus­band tried to calm me down but we were scared for his life and won­der­ing what

they might do to him,” she re­calls, her voice be­com­ing softer and more emo­tional.

“With the re­ports of hu­man traf­fick­ing and sell­ing of body parts all cross­ing my mind, the thought of what they could do to him drove me crazy.”

AF­TER hours of search­ing proved fruit­less, the fam­ily headed to the Cleve­land po­lice sta­tion. On the way there their el­dest daugh­ter, Lungile* (19), re­ceived a call. It was the per­pe­tra­tors. “They told her they could see she was look­ing for some­one and that they had taken the child,” Cai­phus says.

“They said we had to give them R16 000 to see our son again.” His eyes are down­cast and he wrings his hands anx­iously as he re­mem­bers the or­deal.

The fam­ily was warned not to con­tact the po­lice, but they went to the sta­tion and opened a case. That night Lebo hardly slept. She re­joiced when the kid­nap­pers called the next day, but her re­lief was short-lived: they now wanted R60 000.

“I didn’t have that money,” says Lebo, who be­lieves the ran­som is linked to a R4-mil­lion pay­ment the fam­ily re­ceived three years ago.

Her daugh­ter, Ken­sani* (11), was hit by a car on Good Fri­day in 2012 while the fam­ily was trav­el­ing to Nkandla, their place of birth. “That money will only be re­leased to Ken­sani when she turns 21. I just wish peo­ple can un­der­stand that,” Lebo says.

Be­fore she’d com­ply with the kid­nap­per’s de­mands, Lebo de­manded to speak to her son. “They said I must de­posit R3 000 at Sho­prite Money Mar­ket be­fore 10am. I did as I was told and de­posited the money in the po­lice’s pres­ence.

“The po­lice told me I must de­mand to speak to the boy be­fore I give them the trans­ac­tion num­ber and the PIN when they called us.”

She was overjoyed when she heard Lwazi’s voice. “He told me he wasn’t hurt, and that he was in Dur­ban. My heart nearly stopped when he asked me when I was go­ing to fetch him. It was very sad. I just cried.”

Be­fore hang­ing up the kid­nap­pers de­manded an­other R3 000 by 1pm that day. They were des­per­ate to save their son so they bor­rowed money from neigh­bours.

“They told us it was rent money but we had to lie and say we’ll bring it be­fore the end of the month. Our mis­sion was to save our in­no­cent child.”

In spite of all their ef­forts they missed the dead­line.

“I nearly col­lapsed when the snatch­ers told me they would cut my son’s throat be­cause we are not se­ri­ous,” Lebo says.

“I had lost hope, I pleaded with them, telling them that I tried but I failed,” she says, fight­ing back tears.

An­other sleep­less night awaited the fam­ily.

“When a day and night passed with­out hear­ing from them, I started to panic,” Lebo says. “The only thing I could do was to keep on pray­ing.

THEIR pray­ers were an­swered when the kid­nap­pers made con­tact the fol­low­ing day, again ask­ing for R3 000. Lebo de­posited the money, which she bor­rowed from a friend, into their bank ac­count. At the po­lice’s re­quest she gave the kid­nap­pers the wrong PIN.

“They called telling me I must stop play­ing games with them or they will kill him. My world started to crum­ble,” Cai­phus says.

They were still cry­ing and con­fused when, to their sur­prise, the po­lice knocked on the door. With them was Lwazi.

“I was just so over­whelmed,” Lebo re­calls. They’re grate­ful to the po­lice for sav­ing their “most pre­cious gift”.

The po­lice traced the R3 000 Lebo de­posited to Or­ange Farm, a town­ship 45km from Joburg, where they found Lwazi in a shack with a woman who they later ar­rested.

With Lebo’s per­mis­sion, Lwazi speaks.” “I was scared of them but they didn’t hurt me,” the lit­tle boy says. “I kept on cry­ing while sleep­ing on a sponge in that shack.”

Three men snatched him when he came from a spaza shop near his house, he says. “They put me in the front seat and told me we were driv­ing to Dur­ban.”

Lwazi says he was kept in a shack and given rice and soup. “I was al­ways think­ing about my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my mother and fa­ther.

“I was al­ways cry­ing un­til po­lice found me there. I was scared be­cause I didn’t know what they were go­ing to do with me be­cause they were strangers to me.”

And while his par­ents are grate­ful he’s safely back home, they’re wor­ried about drown­ing in the debt.

“We bor­rowed a lot of money from peo­ple. Both of us are not work­ing and we don’t know how we’re go­ing to pay back the money,” Cai­phus says.

“Sih­lukumezek­ile im­pela (we are trau­mi­tised). Be­fore the in­ci­dent, other kids went to school on their own but now I wake up early so that I walk all of them to school and fetch them. No one leaves this house with­out me.” *Not their real names.

‘I was scared be­cause I didn’t know what they were go­ing to do with me’

Po­lice say they can’t di­vulge the de­tails of the kid­nap­ping. But they will re­turn the money if it is re­cov­ered, spokesper­son Jo­han Jor­daan says. “Only if the money is re­cov­ered – the po­lice can­not re­turn the money if it is not found.”

He adds par­ents must in­form the po­lice im­me­di­ately when they re­alise a child is miss­ing.

The fam­ily is grate­ful to po­lice for find­ing their son, but they don’t know how they will re­pay the money they bor­rowed for the ran­som, as their only in­come is grant money.

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