Anguished father speaks out after wife murders their children before committing suicide

2018-03-19 14:15
PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti

PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti

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He rushed home as soon as he got the call. He needed to get home urgently, his brother Vusi had said. But when Mandla Mhlanga arrived home, police officers were on the scene and wouldn't let him in.

He forced his way through the barrier, terrified something awful had happened, and came upon a ghastly scene, the lifeless bodies of his wife, Pearl (32), and their three children − Quanisha (8), Quirino (4) and their seven-month-old baby, Quain − lined up in the passage of their home.

Police suspect Pearl killed herself and her children after an argument with Mandla in July 2017.

The devastated father of three, who hasn't been to the Reyno Ridge home in eMalahleni since, cuts a lonely figure when we meet him at his parents' home in Ackerville, eMalahleni, where the family is preparing for the four funerals.

He's too traumatised to remember what happened when he charged through the door that fateful day, but an officer on the scene says Mandla went in, fell to his knees and started sobbing uncontrollably.

"'Uthize abantwana bam abafanga (I swear my children are not dead)' Mandla moaned as the tears flowed," says the police officer, who can't be named because he's not mandated to speak to the media.

Mandla, a clinical psychologist who runs a private practice in Witbank, is haunted by the scene and blames himself for what happened. He believes he should've seen it coming.

"I knew she [Pearl] had bipolar disorder even before we started dating. I feel like I should have looked at my wife in a professional manner instead of looking at her as someone I'm married to. Now I'm left with so many unanswerable questions and so many mixed feelings."

- Health24: Bipolar disorder

He also feels betrayed by his wife, who was a theatre nurse at eMalahleni Private Hospital. "How can my loved one do such a horrible thing to me? Where do I put all the anger, remorse, guilt and pain I feel? What more could I have done to help?"

Mandla met Pearl during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and he remembers the day clearly − after a match between North Korea and Côte d'Ivoire, he saw Pearl leaving a shop. Drawn by her beauty, he approached her and asked for her number.

It wasn't long before they started seeing each other daily. "We started sharing our family issues and everything else as we wanted to know each other better," Mandla recalls. A year later, in September 2011, they got married.

Like most couples they had minor disagreements, but Mandla says their marriage was generally happy.

"She was my wife and business partner. She was very supportive, kind and loving.

"We faced life's challenges together. It's so sad and I still can't believe my family is gone just like that. Sometimes I'm angry about what she did but on the other hand I find myself smiling when I think about the good times we spent together."

Argument

He's struggling to come to terms with his family's deaths – and he's also being blamed for the tragedy. "One family member told the police the couple started experiencing problems last year. Pearl used to tell them Mandla was beating her," an officer close to the inquest into the deaths discloses.

There's no record of domestic violence at the local police station, however, and Mandla rubbishes the allegations.

"I've never beaten my wife. The only thing I used to do was insult her. At times she'd be reckless with our money and I'd call her a tsotsi," he explains.

On the eve of their deaths, Mandla says he and Pearl had an argument. He was at work and Pearl kept calling, asking him to come home. "I told her I was busy and would come home later. She called again and wanted money to buy medicine [not her prescribed bipolar medication] but I told her she'd get the medicine when I get home. She was nagging me and I decided not to answer her calls. That's when she sent an SMS with what would be her last words to me: If you continue not answering my calls, you will be sorry."

READ: 'You will be sorry' – wife's SMS to husband before bodies found

Mandla says he knew Pearl would continue to pester him at home so he decided to go for a drink with a friend after work. He had one too many and slept if off at his parents' house, he adds. He never imagined Pearl would do anything to harm herself – or their children.

"Bipolar doesn't go away but you can manage it. I believe she wasn't taking her medication." In December last year Pearl attempted to commit suicide but was saved by their domestic worker, who found her unconscious in their bedroom and called the paramedics, Mandla reveals.

It was also the family's domestic worker, Monica Mgwathi, who alerted Pearl's family to the tragedy. According to Witbank police spokesperson Sergeant David Ratau, Monica called Pearl's sister, Vinolia Malang, who stays about 10km from the family's complex, when Pearl didn't open the door for her or answer her calls.

When Vinolia arrived with the spare keys, the women made the grisly discovery. "When she went inside she found the four bodies in the bedroom. The husband wasn't home and she tried to call him, but in vain. Then she called the police and emergency services to the scene," Sergeant Ratau says.

"I could smell the unwelcoming smell [of dead bodies] on my way up the wooden stairs. I was so shocked when I saw the bodies. Upon arrival we found Pearl's body on the floor on the edge of the bed. Little Qwain was on the edge of the bed, next to him was Quirino and then their sister, Quanisha. I was especially touched by the little one. They seemed to be sleeping peacefully. They were declared dead on the scene."

Police later moved the bodies to the passage for the family to identify them. The police also found assorted tablets around the bedroom and the living room of the double-storey house. Pearl's distraught mother, Ellen Malang, arrived on the scene within minutes and Ratau says she refused to leave until she saw her daughter and grandchildren.

"Pearl's mother went inside and kissed her daughter and the children before closing their mouths, which were slightly open," he says.

Memories

Mandla isn't sure how to pick up the pieces of his fragmented life. The events of that fateful day keep replaying in his mind.

"When it happened I was in denial. I asked people around me to tell me it didn't happen. I asked them to tell me my family wasn't dead. I pleaded with my babies to tell me they're not dead.

"I can't recall what they were wearing but I won't forget how they were spread on that floor. I keep trying to imagine the struggle they had before they died. My assumption is that she drugged them before suffocating them to make sure they were dead before she overdosed herself."

He can't bear to return to the home they shared for six years. "I'll never go to that house again. It will remind me of everything, from good memories to the last agonising one." His eyes well up before he continues.

"My kids were my friends. I'd watch TV with them. I know cartoons because of them. Quirino would fight over the remote with his sister, Quanisha. I'll miss those fights as I used to be the mediator.

"My little one was a very sweet baby who never cried. At night he would sleep peacefully. I'll miss the way he would touch me, especially on my face, when I arrived home."

Read more on:    mbombela

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