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.