Woman’s coded warning

2013-08-08 00:00

A 78-YEAR-OLD Pinetown woman used the codeword “human” to alert her sister that she was in trouble after being hijacked.

Thelma Smith, an employee at the Open Door Crisis Centre in Pinetown, was attacked as she returned to her office after shopping. The centre, which offers counselling to abused women and children, is across the road from the Pinetown courts.

One of her attackers later died in a shoot-out with the police.

Smith said as she drove into the parking lot at about 5.30 pm on Tuesday, her horrific ordeal began.

“A gun-wielding man appeared from nowhere and forced me into the passenger seat, and two other men appeared and climbed into the back of the company car. I screamed and the man in the front punched me in the face.”

The men then forced Smith into the back of the car, pushed her head between her legs and drove off. They demanded her bank cards and pin numbers.

“All this time my head is pinned between my legs. I’m not sure which direction they drove because I could not see the road,” she said.

“They stopped the car several times, pulling the interior to pieces searching for a car-tracking device. The cockpit was ripped apart, they tore the roof cover, and smashed the side covers of the car,” she said.

In this time, Thora Mansfield, her sister, phoned Smith several times asking where she was. Smith was allowed to answer, with strict instructions to say that she was fine.

“Thora asked me to give her one word to indicate where I was, and the only word I could think of was ‘human’. She said ‘trafficking?’, and I said ‘yes’.”

That is when Mansfield knew her sister was in danger, and called 10111.

Meanwhile, the men took Smith’s three rings, watch and pearl necklace. They kept on asking for money.

“One of them at one stage tried to put his hand down the back of my pants and I started to whimper and he told me to stop the noise. He removed his hand and pushed my head down again,” she said.

At one point the car stopped and the two men in the front got out. Smith assumed they were going to an ATM.

At about 8 pm her assailants stopped the car in kwaNdengezi, threw her out and drove off. She walked to a nearby house, where a young woman and her boyfriend took her to the area police station.

Mansfield said the incident was very traumatic for the whole family.

“This is such a diabolical act of violence against women and we as a country don’t seem to be moving fast enough to eradicate this violence. About four months ago three men attacked me, but I fought them off,” she said.

“We deal with women and children who have survived various forms of abuse. But when something like this gets closer to home one realises how hard and traumatic life must be for these women,” said Mansfield.

Board chairperson advocate Val Melis said the incident was ironic, coming just two days before the centre was to celebrate Women’s Day.

“For such a crime to happen right at the centre is just so shocking. However, we are grateful that she’s still with us.”

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said the car was traced in the Hillcrest area. When pulled over, the suspects sped off and police gave chase.

“The suspects lost control of the vehicle and crashed. They allegedly opened fire at the police and police retaliated, killing one of the suspects. Two others managed to escape,” said Naicker.

The investigation continues.

• chris.ndaliso@witness.co.za

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