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Pretoria - The past 18 months, during which baby Koketso went missing, have been a roller-coaster of emotions for her mother Rose Sithole, and they have swung from feelings of guilt and blame, hope raised and dashed, and thoughts of suicide.
The 28-year-old Kameeldrift mother said the stress of not knowing where her baby was, if she was being taken care of, fed properly or even alive was something she would not wish even on her worst enemy.
“The feelings of guilt are probably the worst, when I ask myself why I didn’t protect this tiny person when she most needed me; why I blindly trusted a stranger and ignored my feelings of unease as I watched her carrying my baby in her arms.”
Koketso was five days old on June 1 last year when a woman knocked on the door of the shack she shared with her mother, father Lucky Madika and two elder sisters, offering to help her mother get an ID.
The stranger convinced Rose to go to town with her, where she took her to a building she said was the Department of Social Development.
With the baby in her arms, the stranger disappeared through a door saying she had contacts in the building who would fast-track the process.
When she did not come back, the police were alerted and NGOs Missing Children SA and The Pink Ladies were roped in as a search for the baby ensued, with a few false leads at the beginning.
The desperate parents turned to seers and prophets in an effort to locate their baby, some telling them she had been killed, others saying she was being kept at the informal settlement where they lived.
Rituals were performed on the baby’s clothes by some prophets who promised that the baby would be found.
Last week the mother said she was broken-hearted and had been driven to the ends of her sanity a few times, where suicide presented itself as the best option.
“The combination of hope that she is still alive and not knowing what life she is living drives me to desperation, and at that point I know I neglected my baby by letting her out of my arms and sight,” she was quoted as saying.
These emotions leave left her feeling useless and deserving of death.
In the absence of professional counselling, Rose has had to rely on the wisdom of older women in the community, who, she says, often explain that she could not have known that the woman was a baby-snatcher and remind her that her nine-year-old Lebo and Dimakatso, six, need her.
The mother also went through a phase where she was blamed for the disappearance of the baby, and endured allegations from some community members that she had sold Koketso.
“She was my baby, I had bonded with her from conception, why would I get rid of her?” she asks.
The blame and subsequent separation from her boyfriend was not easy on her.
“The stories and lies have made me wary and I realise that I must watch my daughters carefully as they grow for signs of maturity and readiness for a discussion on what happened before they get the wrong impression,” she says.
Rose says she is convinced that her baby is dead because independent traditional practitioners say so and her dreams have been interpreted that way.
However, Missing Children SA and the police say they are still looking for the baby.
“We will never ever give up hope and will search for her until it is absolutely clear that we have to stop,” Missing Children’s social development and welfare officer Nicky Rheder said.