Sa­dia Sukhraj’s fam­ily speak out a year af­ter her death

The Dur­ban dad who fired the bul­let that killed his daugh­ter dur­ing a botched hi­jack­ing opens up on feel­ings of guilt

DRUM - - CONTENTS - BY LESEGO MAJA PIC­TURES: DAR­REN STE­WART

IHAVE to live with it. I have to sleep with it. I have to get up with it.” These are the heartrend­ing words of Shailen­dra Sukhraj, the fa­ther from Chatsworth, Dur­ban, who made head­lines last year when he shot and killed his lit­tle girl while the fam­ily car was be­ing hi­jacked. The story struck a chord with peo­ple across the coun­try with par­ents who couldn’t imag­ine the agony he was go­ing through, as well as with millions of crime-weary ci­ti­zens.

Here was a man who had tried to pro

tect his fam­ily. In­stead it had all gone cat­a­stroph­i­cally wrong.

Shailen­dra and his wife, Lorraine, are speaking for the first time of the night­mare their fam­ily has en­dured – an or­deal thrust back into the pub­lic eye af­ter the re­cent sen­tenc­ing of one of the hi­jack­ers.

Si­bonelo Mkhize (39) was jailed for life for ag­gra­vated rob­bery and for the murders of nine-year-old Sa­dia and Mkzhize’s ac­com­plice, Siyabonga Bu­lose.

Even though it was Shailen­dra who pulled the trig­ger, Judge Es­ther Steyn found Mkhize guilty as his ac­tions had led to both the deaths.

Under laws of com­mon pur­pose, an ac­cused can be held re­spon­si­ble for crimes they did not com­mit if, by their con­duct, they must have fore­seen the crimes could be com­mit­ted.

“Or­di­nary ci­ti­zens should not go through what Mr and Mrs Sukhraj went through on an or­di­nary day while taking their daugh­ter to school,” the judge said.

They have been robbed of their beau­ti­ful young child, she added, who must have been ter­ri­fied in her fi­nal mo­ments.

For Shailen­dra and Lorraine, the fact the man re­spon­si­ble is be­hind bars is scant com­fort. Noth­ing can fill the void their lit­tle girl’s death has left be­hind.

“What­ever you could want in a child, she was all of it,” Shailen­dra says. “She was a peo­ple per­son, even at that age. She was ex­traor­di­nary.”

MON­DAY morn­ing 28 May 2018 be­gan as usual for the Sukhraj fam­ily: wake up, get dressed, get the kids up, give them break­fast, drop off the kids, head to work.

Shailen­dra (41), a sales rep and pastor, and Lorraine (39), a doc­tor’s re­cep­tion­ist, piled Sa­dia and her baby brother, Jaziel (then six months), into the fam­ily’s Hyundai Tuc­son. They headed for Lorraine’s mom’s house in nearby Shall­cross to drop off Jaziel, who was cared for by his granny while his par­ents were at work.

“We got into the drive­way, switched off the car and ex­ited it,” Shailen­dra re­calls.

“As my wife went into my mother-in­law’s house with Jaziel, I started to get what­ever was needed for the baby from the car and went in­side.”

Sa­dia waited in the back­seat of the car as usual while her par­ents got her lit­tle brother set­tled.

Two or three min­utes later, Lorraine went out­side to their car and Shailen­dra heard her scream, “Oh my God! There’s some­body in the drive­way!”

Shailen­dra rushed out­side and one of the two hi­jack­ers pointed a gun at him and de­manded the car keys. He handed them over and re­treated to­wards the house. “Sa­dia was still in the car. I had to sub­mit to the re­quest be­cause my life and my fam­ily’s lives were under threat. From the mo­ment I handed over the keys and went back in the house, I knew this spelt trou­ble,” he says.

As soon as he got back in­side, Shailen­dra pulled out his firearm. As a trav­el­ling sales­man he al­ways had a gun on him as he of­ten drove through dan­ger­ous ar­eas.

Mo­ments later, he came out of the house again and was pre­pared to do what­ever nec­es­sary to keep the hi­jack­ers from driv­ing away with Sa­dia, who was sit­ting di­rectly be­hind the front pas­sen­ger seat. “I could see her. My mind was fo­cused on her as they were driv­ing off and I knew I needed to stop the ve­hi­cle.”

Rape. Hu­man traf­fick­ing. Those were the thoughts that flick­ered through his mind as he shot at the car, he says, des­per­ately try­ing to save Sa­dia. “I wanted to stop the car. In­stinct kicks in at the spur of the mo­ment. It’s very easy when you’re not in the sit­u­a­tion [to crit­i­cise my de­ci­sion] but when you’re in the mo­ment it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” he says.

He was fir­ing at the driver but the car kept go­ing un­til it crashed into the gate, then into a parked car in the road.

When the car struck the gate, the im­pact caused the rear pas­sen­ger door to swing open. That was the last time Shailen­dra saw his daugh­ter alive.

“As a fa­ther you just want your child back . . . but it never hap­pened.”

Sa­dia was struck in the chest by one of the bul­lets from her fa­ther’s gun. She was rushed to hospital but it was too late to save her.

Bu­lose died of gun­shot wounds too and Mkhize was ar­rested near the scene by an off-duty po­lice­man, War­rant Of­fi­cer He­mant Raghoo­nun­dan.

SHAILEN­DRA and Lorraine are still try­ing to pick up the pieces of their lives. It’s not get­ting any eas­ier but they are go­ing through the heal­ing process with the help of spir­i­tual coun­selling, pro­fes­sional coun­selling and sup­port from friends,

fam­ily and their com­mu­nity.

They also have each other to turn to. The tragedy, Shailen­dra says, has made their mar­riage stronger.

“My wife has her bad days and I have my bad days. We look to each other for sup­port and that has re­ally strength­ened our mar­riage.

“Af­ter what has hap­pened there’s a sense of guilt, of course there is. It’s not some­thing we could take an eraser to and re­move from our thoughts.”

Even dur­ing all the pain, Lorraine can’t help but smile when she re­calls how her lit­tle girl would fill the house with song and dance ev­ery day.

“She was full of life, bub­bly and a real gem,” she says. “She was beau­ti­ful in­side and out, in ev­ery as­pect of the word.”

Sa­dia would’ve turned 10 this year and her par­ents had so much hope for their tal­ented child. Now they chan­nel their love into Jaziel (now 1), their faith, the com­mu­nity and each other.

De­spite ev­ery­thing the cou­ple have cho­sen not to har­bour feel­ings of anger to­wards Mkhize.

“In court he didn’t show a stitch of re­morse,” Shailen­dra says. “But I’ve let it go. It’s crys­tal clear in the Bi­ble that if I have any in­equity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me so I have re­leased that.”

“I feel the same way,” Lorraine says, “be­cause at the end of the day it’s not go­ing to bring my child back.”

Shailen­dra be­lieves their beloved Sa­dia’s brief life was a mean­ing­ful one.

“If you look at the lives she touched, yes, she’s served her pur­pose. She’s touched so many lives in her way it’s un­be­liev­able.

“The most im­por­tant thing is love, and love con­quers all. Sa­dia had love.”

‘We look to each other for sup­port’

‘In court he didn’t show a stitch of re­morse. But I’ve let it go’

Lorraine and Shailen­dra Sukhraj are still heal­ing af­ter their daugh­ter Sa­dia (LEFT) was ac­ci­den­tally fa­tally shot by Shailen­dra in a botched hi­jack­ing.

Last month Si­bonelo Mkhize was sentenced to life for the mur­der of Sa­dia and his ac­com­plice Siyabonga Bu­lose, plus 15 years for ag­gra­vated rob­bery.

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