A knot formed in the pit of the young mother’s belly as she looked around the post office. She tried to tell herself everything was okay – surely the polite social worker who was with her baby boy must be here somewhere. Asanda Tiwani had her three-month old baby, Akahlulwa, cradled in one arm and her two-year-old son, Ebonga, clutched at her free hand as they went in search of Akahlulwa’s twin, Kwahlelwa. After one last look around the drab beige post office and with her heart pounding faster and faster, she quickly walked outside. Voortrekker Road in Parow, Cape Town, was busy, filled with cars and taxis and people.
Asanda (29) looked up and down the street before hurrying back towards the bustling taxi rank. Perhaps she had misunderstood what the young woman had said, and they were supposed to have met back there to go back to her Khayelitsha home. Then, she claims, her cellphone beeped, interrupting her thoughts. Its screen was lit with a message that has haunted her for weeks. The text was the start of a chilling nightmare from which Asanda is still desperately hoping she will wake. “Take a taxi back to Khayelitsha, I have noticed that taking care of the children is very difficult. I will take care of him until you guys are alright,” the message apparently read. The Tiwani family’s world has been turned upside down since Kwahlelwa was kidnapped nearly a month ago.
Kwahlelwa’s dad, Siyanda Thongani (34), is desperate for his baby boy to be returned. His voice trembles as he recounts how the young woman, who introduced herself as Monica and claimed to be a social worker from the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre in Khayelitsha, arrived at their home on 10 January with promises of government-sponsored support. This Good Samaritan was the lifeline the unemployed parents had been praying for. “She offered to assist us with obtaining birth certificates for the twins, monthly food parcels as well as a R1 000 food voucher,” Siyanda tells us. A day after their son was kidnapped a teenage learner at Claremont High School, Karabo Tau (18), was arrested. Shortly after, Ely Kibunda (22), reportedly Tau’s boyfriend, was also detained and charged with kidnapping the baby. Kwahlelwa, however, is still missing.
The young woman impressed the struggling parents with her enthusiasm and made arrangements for them to complete affidavits and fill in documents at various police stations and home affairs offices between 10 January and 16 January. “Monica” always insisted the twins accompany them, saying their presence was “evidence Asanda does not want the aid for herself but for the children”, Siyanda says. Whenever they were with her, she would carry one twin and Asanda would carry the other, he adds. “She told me she works for Nonceba, a Khayelitsha-based shelter that cares for people who are struggling. She told me she lives here in Khayelitsha, Site B, M section”.
The Nonceba Counselling Centre works with the courts and the department of social development to provide counselling for victims in domestic abuse matters, explains the centre’s manager, Msokoli Zilani. “We do not provide any door-to-door services, unless we are carrying out awareness campaigns. Nor do we work with or provide any vouchers. We do not know of anyone by the name of Monica who is an employee or a social worker.”
On 16 January, Monica called Asanda at 7am and said they would be going to Parow Post Office to collect the promised R1 000 voucher that afternoon. She told her to have the children ready for the journey. “She arrived at about 2pm and we took a taxi to Site C, to the Khayelitsha central taxi rank. I was carrying Akahlulwa and she carried Kwahlelwa. I also had Ebonga by the hand.” From there, they took another taxi to Parow. “She would always pay for our taxi fare. When we arrived in Parow she gave me money and said, ‘Go buy yourselves a cooldrink. I need to go to the post office to post some things’.” Asanda did as Monica suggested. “I went back to the post office to look for her because I was worried the other twin might be hungry. When I couldn’t find her, I called the twins’ father to send me her number because it was in a phone I had left behind.” Monica did not answer the phone after several attempts by Asanda. “After an hour she sent me that text.”
DRUM has seen the SMS, which Asanda says she received the day her child was kidnapped but the message is dated 1 January. A source said Asanda had changed SIM cards, which could have affected her phone’s date settings but the SMS did not feature in the bail hearing and remains untested evidence. Karabo’s lawyer, Sulaiman Chothia, told DRUM that the SMSes have not been introduced as evidence in court, nor had he seen them. “The state has alluded to [the SMS allegedly sent by the kidnapper], and the investigating officer indicated to me that they are going to download some stuff off [Karabo’s] phone which would take a few minutes. “He took my numbers, so if there were any SMSes I would have been told about it before the outcome of the bail application,” Chothia says. “So, if there were any SMSes, the question is, why didn’t the state do something about it at the outset?” Asanda called Siyanda, who in turn called the police. They traced Monica’s cellphone number to a Facebook page linked to Karabo and arrested her the next day, after Asanda identified Karabo as “Monica”.
Karabo signed a confession admitting she’d stolen the baby, but later recanted it, saying detectives had forced her to sign it. “I don’t know where the child is and I didn’t take the child,” she testified at her bail hearing. Police threatened her, saying she would never get out of jail, so she wrote what the detectives told her to write, she told the court. She had been interrogated for 10 hours at Parow Police Station without being allowed to eat or drink anything during that time, she added. She also denied Kibunda was her boyfriend. She said she met him on Facebook and the last time she had seen him was in November, when they ran into each other at a shopping centre. She maintained she had nothing to do with the missing baby and told the court she had been in school at the time of the kidnapping.
Her isiXhosa teacher, Thokozile Godana, also testified Karabo had been sitting in the front row of her class, at the school, which is about 30 kilometres from Parow Post Office. CCTV footage from the school, which was admitted as evidence, shows her leaving the class at 3pm. When state prosecutor Tobinceba Matrose pointed out the footage was 20 minutes ahead of time, the school’s IT manager, Johan Thompson, said the footage had not been tampered with. Karabo’s uncle, Dumisani Njengele, says the phone number the police used to trace Karabo was one she no longer used, adding that it must have been reassigned by the cellphone networks. “The police have still not given us the number that they say they used to trace Karabo.”
Meanwhile, Karabo has been released on bail of R2 000. “This case, where a baby has gone missing, is a tragedy – and this court is not here to decide if the accused is innocent or guilty,” magistrate Charles Scott ruled. “The state needs to prove it is not in the interests of justice to grant bail to the accused. But this court, however, is not satisfied with the state’s evidence led.” Themba Njengele, another of her uncles, says his niece’s release was the answer to their prayers. “We know this is not the end, but the family is so happy that she is out.” Charges against Ely were withdrawn, and Karabo’s case will resume in April. Ely’s lawyer, advocate Leon Fieties, will pursue a civil case on the grounds that his client’s rights were violated, he told News24. “I think that God never sleeps,” Ely’s relieved father, Romaine, said outside the court.
But the court appearances have done nothing to soothe the despair and pain the Tiwanis are feeling. “We are really suffering. People have suggested we go for counselling, but we don’t know how to talk about these kinds of things,” Siyanda says. “Akahlulwa is always crying for his twin and Ebonga keeps asking us where his brother is.” Asanda is pleading to whoever has her baby to return him. “It is very painful. I have not been well since this happened,” she says. “I’m begging them to bring me my child.