Johannesburg – In Sizwe Street, Extension 16, Tsakane, Ekurhuleni, a cold chill sweeps through the humble family home of missing 8-year-old girl Amahle Thabethe.
Huddled on the battered couch with a throw wrapped around her petite frame is Amahle’s mother, Nokulunga Nkosi, 34.
We try to break the ice with warm greetings, but it is difficult to get through to the soft-spoken mother, who keeps glancing at the phone next to her.
It is 70 days since she last laid eyes on or hugged her little girl, Amahle, who was abducted while playing outside her home.
Nkosi feels helpless as she remains clueless about the whereabouts of her only child. Asking her to relive the experience of losing her baby girl feels intrusive. Yet, despite the lack of leads and clues to her daughter’s fate, Nkosi remains hopeful that Amahle will return home to her – alive.
Our conversation is contrived, with pronounced gaps in-between the few words that she finds courage to share, painting a vivid picture of her pain, anguish and possibly even anger.
Her world came crashing down at about 1pm on Saturday, April 6, 2019. It was the day on which Amahle, clad in a pink top and denim shorts, was playing merrily on the gravel road with her cousins and neighbourhood friends.
Their carefree chatter was replaced by panic when an unknown man swooped on the children and lured Amahle away. Once she registered what had just occurred, Nkosi froze in disbelief.
Since Amahle’s disappearance, Nkosi, an assistant welder at the City of Ekurhuleni, has not been the same. Sleep eludes her, she struggles to eat and she has been put on antidepressants to help her cope with the grief she and her family are experiencing.
Fortunately, the Tsakane community has rallied behind the Nkosi family. Days after her disappearance, members of the community marched to Tsakane police station to demand answers in a bid to raise awareness of the young girl’s disappearance.
Nkosi has lost count of how many members of the community, police officers, journalists and well-wishers have frequented her home since that fateful Saturday afternoon.
While each visitor offers comfort, they don’t bring back her daughter. Instead, each time Nkosi opens the door to a guest, she also has to relive the devastating events.
On the day of our visit, she refuses to talk about that terrifying Saturday afternoon, opting to dwell only on happy memories, especially Amahle’s infectious smile.
“I have hope that she is alive. She must be so scared, wherever she is,” she murmurs.
Nkosi feels let down by the police and declares that she no longer trusts them. Although the police seemed enthusiastic to help at first, they have since lost steam, she says. Now it is Nkosi who calls and visits Tsakane police station for updates on her daughter’s case.
“At the end of April I had hope that we were close to finding her, only to realise there’s been no progress. All we need is communication from the police. I don’t trust them any more,” declares the aggrieved Nkosi.
Thandazo Ndlovu, her friend and neighbour, is concerned about Nkosi’s physical and mental health since her daughter’s disappearance, especially since she hasn’t undergone counselling.
“Nokulunga is not well. She is always ill. Amahle is all she thinks about,” she reveals. To take the pressure off her friend, Ndlovu has been instrumental in raising awareness of Amahle’s abduction. She also acts as the family’s spokesperson.
“I truly believe Amahle is still alive. I dream of her often,” she shares. “A month ago, a child went missing in Duduza. She was, sadly, found dead a week later. So, my gut tells me that Amahle is alive,” says Ndlovu.
Police spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini shares Ndlovu’s conviction that the young girl may yet be alive, since nothing has been found so far.
“While there are no leads, a kidnapping investigation is currently under way. Most times, if they’ve been killed, we do find the bodies. We’ve got nothing yet, so she may be still alive,” says Dlamini.
Clinical psychologist Professor Gérard Labuschagne of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology at Wits University said in most abduction cases young victims tend to be kidnapped by a family member – often a parent.
“This could be motivated by human trafficking, as well as parental kidnapping, sexually motivated. The cases I tended to work on were mostly motivated by sex.
“If she was kidnapped by a parent, then there is a good chance she is alive. If she was kidnapped by a stranger, then the chances of her being alive are lower. A ransom demand would have come by now.”
Labuschagne urges parents to make sure children are always supervised. “They need to take responsibility for the whereabouts of their children. It’s not the police’s job,” he cautions.`
The Sunday Independent