'You made a fool out of South Africa’s caring public,' court tells mom who faked baby's abduction

2018-01-24 15:52
The Durban mom who faked her own baby's abduction. (Tania Broughton, News24 correspondent)

The Durban mom who faked her own baby's abduction. (Tania Broughton, News24 correspondent)

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Durban - No-one goes home until the baby is found.

That was the instruction given to about 100 police officers from 11 mostly specialised units in KwaZulu-Natal, who were on the hunt for a man who had "hijacked" a mother and took her one-month-old baby who was inside the car.

"No-one slept and, if they did, they slept in their offices," Colonel Langa Mhlongo said in his testimony on Wednesday during sentence proceedings for the mother, who finally admitted that the "crime" was a hoax.

The 34-year-old primary school teacher, who cannot be named to protect the identity of her now 11-month-old daughter, has been sentenced to five years in jail after she pleaded guilty to fraud, defeating the ends of justice and making a false police report.

READ: Durban mother who faked abduction of one-month-old baby sentenced to five years

She will have to serve at least 10 months of the sentence before being released on correctional supervision at the discretion of prison officials.

Durban Regional Court Magistrate Anand Maharaj said he believed the sentence would minimise the impact on her four children. He ordered that social workers visit the children once a month, establish if they are in need of care and, if necessary, approach the Children's Court.

It emerged during sentencing the mother had hatched the hijacking and abduction plot to avoid questions from her husband and extended family about the baby’s biological father, who was a man with whom she had had an affair.

She said she had given the child to the biological father and intended to visit occasionally.

'Deception on a grand scale'

In what the magistrate described as "deception on a grand scale", she reported the crime on March 10, 2017, claiming she had been held at gunpoint outside a Greyville Shopping Centre. She managed to get her older child out of the car before the "hijacker" sped off, taking the newborn with him.

Mhlongo told the court that "all resources were mobilised".

"Our focus was to recover the baby alive."

Two hours later the car was found abandoned in Montclair. The baby and baby bag were missing.

The operation was coordinated at a provincial level, Mhlongo said.

'Very sympathetic'

"A female investigating officer was tasked with staying with the mom. We understood what she was going through and we wanted to make it easier for her. We were very sympathetic to her ordeal."

The following day he noticed some "loopholes" in her story. These included the fact that she had not immediately reported the incident and CCTV cameras from the shopping centre showed her walking calmly around with her older child.

"We struggled to talk to her because the house was so busy, people were coming and going, there was a prayer vigil. She had already given interviews to the media and a local radio station. It was national and international news. Everyone, ordinary members of the public, had joined in the search.

READ: Massive search on for hijacked one-month-old girl

"Finally I spoke to her just after lunch. I wanted to go through her statement step by step. 
"By then we had information regarding who she had spoken to just before the incident. For over an hour, she gave out very little information. I had to dig...and then I confronted her about a certain cellphone number. By then two hours had passed. She said she knew the man but again gave very little away."

Mhlongo said he phoned the man, who admitted he had the baby, saying he had been given it by the mother to perform a traditional ritual at his traditional home.

"I kept talking to him…he promised to bring the baby back. When his car went through the Marianhill Toll Plaza (just after midnight on Sunday) we apprehended him."

He said the mother appeared "indifferent" after her arrest.

Asked by Prosecutor Kuveshni Pillay if he could "quantify" the cost of the police operation, he said: "I don’t know where to begin. So many resources were directed to this case that never was.

Shock, disbelief and anger

"She betrayed so many people…family, colleagues, members of the community."

In passing sentence, the magistrate noted how many people had "stepped up" at the time of the crisis.

He read out comments from Facebook in which people, some living overseas, first expressed their utter shock at the abduction and then disbelief and anger when the hoax was discovered.

"You made a fool out of South Africa’s caring public," he said.

He praised the prosecutor and Mhlongo who, he said, "represents all that is good about the police".

He refused to grant the mother leave to appeal against the sentence, saying it was "not shockingly inappropriate and proportionate to the crime".

The biological father, Phumlani Mbokazi, will appear in court again next month.

Read more on:    durban  |  abductions  |  crime

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