This article was previously published 2020.
She was gripped by so much fear and panic she could barely get a word out when she tried to tell the police what had happened. It was almost impossible to find the words that would strike fear in the heart of any parent – her child had been kidnapped. Dipuo Nyambiri was overwhelmed and sobbing uncontrollably when she told the police her three-month-old boy had been taken from her at the Mamelodi West clinic.
Dipuo (35) had brought little Tshegofatso to the clinic for his scheduled 14th-week vaccinations. She wasn’t the least bit suspicious when a friendly woman seated next to her complimented her on her adorable infant and asked if she could hold him. The stranger held him and played with him for a few minutes, until he dozed off, while the conversation between her and his mother turned to the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
As they chatted, a nurse approached them. “She came to tell us to undress our kids as it was time to weigh them,” recalls Dipuo, a domestic worker, who was listening attentively to the nurse. “In the blink of an eye, the woman disappeared with my baby”.
Dipuo was overcome with panic. “I felt as if I was going mad when I realised the stranger had disappeared with my child,” she says. Frantic, she ran onto the street to look up and down the road.
“Then I went back inside the clinic to search in the toilets, but she was nowhere to be found.” Dipuo made her way to the police station, accompanied by another mother who had also been at the clinic with her baby. “When we got to the police station I couldn’t speak as I was so deeply upset and crying. The other woman gave a detailed statement to police of what had happened,” she recalls.
Tshegofatso’s dad, Marcus Mamabolo (41), was stunned when he was told his youngest child had been abducted. Hours later, on 13 March, he accompanied police to the Blood Street Taxi Rank, after police received a tip-off that the stranger had been seen in the area. A desperate Marcus was gutted when the tip-off turned out to be dead-end.
His uncle, Ernest Thosago, helped spread the word on social media, but back at home, in the single room she shares with her family in Mamelodi, Dipuo was sick with worry. Was her baby getting enough to eat? Was the stranger looking after him? Was he ever going to be returned home? Was Tshegofatso even alive? It was too much to bear.
NIGHTMARE COME TRUE
Then came a terrifying call. The man who called had a deep voice, and a foreign accent. He called Dipuo repeatedly the day after her boy was stolen, demanding a R2 000 ransom to be made by money transfer at a supermarket for the child’s safe return. “I could not eat, I was crying constantly, and Marcus was negotiating with this man to lower the ransom amount,” she says.
Marcus, a carpenter, talked the alleged kidnapper down to R1 000, but became suspicious when he refused to send photos of Tshegofatso in exchange for the money. “We reported the matter to the police, and they said it was probably a scam, but they would investigate it too.”
Dipuo was battling to cope, unable to think of anything but what she would normally be doing with her baby during the day – bathing him, feeding him, and playing with him. Marcus’ suspicions about the ransom phone calls were soon confirmed. Ernest called shortly after midnight, on 15 March, to let him know that police at the Mamelodi East police station said his son had been found. “I immediately told Dipuo the good news, and we walked to the nearest police station, Mamelodi West. We got there at about 1.30am, and the police drove us to the Mamelodi East station.”
They were overcome with joy when they laid eyes on their son after two nightmarish days without him. “Tshegofatso looked exhausted,” Marcus recalls. “He had tiny marks on his face, which appeared to be mosquito bites, but he was neatly dressed in new clothes. He was very clean. We immediately knew it was him, but we identified his birthmark for confirmation.” “We didn’t need any DNA testing,” Dipuo says, adding that she felt an unbelievable sense of relief when she laid eyes on her baby.
It was at about 11pm on Saturday night, 14 March, when Tshegofatso’s cries drew the attention of a young couple who found him near a dump site not far from University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi Campus and took him to the police station. The baby was taken to hospital to be examined, and at 5am his parents were driven to there to bring their boy home.
“Thankfully, he was in good health, and unharmed,” Marcus says.
Tshegofatso is safely home, but Dipuo is still wracked with guilt, blaming herself for her son’s abduction. She is still unable to eat or sleep, she tells us. “I have to find peace, and I have to forgive myself. I have learnt through this painful experience that never again in my life will I trust a stranger.” Marcus and Dipuo have their own theory about the woman who snatched their child.
They think she recently had a miscarriage, and was so desperate to have a child that she decided to take their son. “The way she stole our child at the clinic was a well-orchestrated plan that was successfully executed,” Marcus says. Tshegofatso will soon join his older brothers, Lebogang (14) and Thabang (11), at their grandmother’s home in Eersterust, near Hammanskraal, for the holidays, Marcus says.
The couple is grateful they could lean on their families and the Mamelodi community during their tough time. “I am very happy for the support we received from everyone,” Marcus says. “Our family came to comfort us and played an important role circulating the photo of our missing child on social media. I’m also happy that the media assisted with circulating the photo.”
Police, however, have not yet been able to trace the woman who abducted Tshegofatso, or the man who made the ransom demands. The woman, who is in her early 30s, has a gold tooth, a fair complexion and short hair, police say.