A couple in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa are in grief after their kidnapped three-weeks-old baby died on Wednesday, just two days after he was returned to them alive.
Baby Sikhanyiso Ngcobo, then only a week old, was allegedly stolen by a woman identified as Prisca Gabisile Mndaweni, who tricked the 17-year-old mother, Bongeka Ngcobo, into handing him over to her.
After almost two weeks of agony and tension, the suspect was arrested and the parents reunited with their child, but the baby fell ill and died Wednesday.
Accused Mndaweni made a brief appearance at the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. She was charged with kidnapping after which she told the court she intended to plead guilty.
The case was postponed to 12 January for a bail application, with the accused remanded in custody until then.
Bongeka, from Elandskop in KwaMafunze, had gone to Home Affairs to apply for a birth certificate.
While walking down Church Street, she was approached by a smartly dressed woman, who appeared to be in her late 30s, who asked her where she was going with the baby.
When Bongeka told the woman she was going to the Ematsheni taxi rank, she said she would walk with her.
“As we continued walking down, she asked if she can hold the baby and I agreed.”
Bongeka said the woman told her she had heard from other people that if you are pregnant and you hold a newborn “you will not have difficulties with your birth”.
“We walked past a shop selling fried chips. She took out a R20 note and asked me to buy the fried chips for her as she was still holding the baby. I turned around to ask her something and she was gone. I ran down the street looking for her but she was nowhere to be found,” said Bongeka.
Last Thursday, police made a breakthrough and tracked down little Skhanyiso to a house in Hammarsdale. Bongeka and her family said they were overjoyed to be reunited with their baby.
Ngcobo said they were contacted by the investigating officer, Sergeant Zwelithini Nxele, on Wednesday afternoon telling them he had received information that Skhanyiso was in Hammarsdale.
Then on Thursday, Bongeka, her mother, Nxele and Constable Sanele Mchunu went to Hammarsdale in search of the baby.
“The police went into the house first to speak to the woman and when they called us in Bongeka identified the woman as the one who had stolen the baby and later identified the baby. The woman immediately apologised and said she had intended to eventually bring back the baby to us,” said Ngcobo.
She said although they were not entirely satisfied with the physical appearance of the baby, they were happy that the baby was well and healthy.
Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said police had been on their toes ever since the incident.
He said it was the Pietermaritzburg branch commander, Colonel Ntando Mbatha, who established a team dedicated solely to finding the baby.
The two police officers assigned to the case, Nxele and Mchunu, worked around the clock, following various leads and information until they eventually tracked down the woman who had stolen Skhanyiso. “It is an indescribable feeling,” said Ngobese.
Pietermaritzburg Cluster commander Major-General Phumelele Makoba expressed her gratitude to the police officers who worked to find Skhanyiso.
She and Ngobese also cautioned the public not to trust strangers with their children no matter how friendly or approachable they appeared to be.