I have 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 protect 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 formthe 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.”